India’s cougar couples: When a man loves an older woman

By Shilpa Raina, IANS
Monday, December 6, 2010

NEW DELHI - Somebody has very rightly said love knows no age. At a time when the dynamics of marriage are changing rapidly and youngsters are experimenting with their lives, “cougar” relationship is a new phrase catching up among them.

The term cougar refers to a relationship where a woman is romantically involved with a much younger man and it was the theme of the 2009 superhit film “Wake Up Sid”. Audiences loved watching Ranbir Kapoor falling in love with the older Konkona Sen Sharma and even thronged the theatres for it.

“This trend is not so uncommon in India. It has been around for some time now. And, yes, Indian sensibilities are not in conflict with such relationships,” psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh told IANS.

“The phenomenon, whether people like it or not, is increasingly coming out in the open. In the past too, such relationships existed but were not talked about too much,” he added.

Way back in 1967, Hollywood came out with its well-known classic “The Graduate”, where Anne Bancroft, an older woman, seduces a much younger man, played by Dustin Hoffman.

And such experiments were not restricted to the celluloid.

Quite a few Hollywood celebrities have had successful “cougar” marriages and the recent example is Demi Moore who has enjoyed marital bliss with 15-year younger actor Ashton Kutcher.

Other such couples are Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (12-year age gap), Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon (10-year age gap).

Even pop diva Madonna, known for her experimental looks, tried it when she tied the knot with 10-year younger Guy Ritchie. But they separated two years ago.

In India, the most publicised cougar couple was Saif Ali Khan who married Amrita Singh way back in 1991. She was 12 years older to him. Their marriage had raised a lot of eyebrows, with people questioning the compatibility and the big age-gap, but it lasted a good 12 years. In 2004 they got divorced.

Samir Parikh, a consultant psychiatrist at Max Healthcare, says anything unusual is bound to get attention.

“Anything which is slightly different raises eyebrows for a while. This happens more so with celebrities because they are so much in the public glare and the reactions are all the more manifest,” Parikh told IANS.

Even master blaster Sachin Tendulkar’s wife Anjali Tendulkar is five years older to him whereas Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala has married seven years younger Samrat Dahal and choreographer-turned-director Farah Khan exchanged vows with eight-year younger Shirish Kunder.

According to Chugh, if one looks at the Indian value system closely, it emphasises on making a relationship work and not so much on the peripherals.

The age difference of a year or two doesn’t even qualify for the term “cougar”, and there are many examples of such couples in the Hindi film industry - Bollywood actors like Aishwarya Rai and Shilpa Shetty have respectively married Abhishek Bachchan and Raj Kundra who are two years younger to them. Even legendary actress Nargis was a year older to her actor husband Sunil Dutt.

Sometimes such marriages are seen by society as an attempt by a woman to have some fun in her life or by someone who wants to tame her partner and can do so by marrying a younger man.

This psyche was beautifully portrayed by director Ajay Sinha in the popular television serial “Astitva - Ek Prem Kahani”, about a young photographer marrying a doctor who’s 10 years older to him.

Chugh said: “Just as a woman would look for a father figure or fulfil her needs for protection in an older man, a man would look for a mother figure or fulfil his needs for tender care and love in an older woman.”

Moreover, a drastic shift in the financial status has made today’s women independent and they enjoy the power to pick and choose their partners without worrying about age, money and caste.

“Women today, just like the men, are experimenting and are also sure enough of themselves to take such chances. In this whole discussion, we must not make it a feminist thing as it is as much a woman’s choice as a man’s. The younger man is also, at the same time, taking the decision to marry an older woman,” said Chugh.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at

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