Odd couples

Updated: Feb 03, 2019, 07:51 IST | Paromitra Vohra

Grace and Frankie is a hit Netflix series starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as two 70-year-old women, whose husbands announce they are leaving them - to marry each other

Odd couples
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Paromitra VohraAt a meeting last week, two young colleagues asked me: are you watching Grace and Frankie? "I've finished all the seasons," said one. "I'm trying to make it last," said another. "I just want to cherish it." That night, my best friend sent me a video interview with its lead actors and the message, "More reason to love Grace and Frankie!"

Grace and Frankie is a hit Netflix series starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as two 70-year-old women, whose husbands announce they are leaving them — to marry each other. "It's our second chance at life," they say. The women, who've never liked each other, are forced to share a house and a life they did not choose. Yet, the choices they do make, give them a thriving life, romances, a new business making vibrators for older women and come to love each other in a deep, supportive friendship.

The show is far from perfect. Situations can be contrived, crises are easily resolved. But it's exhilarating to watch two older women onscreen, as enjoyable performers and as entertaining characters. The show is good-natured, not interested in being clever or self-important, but this is also why it allows many political ideas about personal life to breathe easy.

Grace is efficient, unsentimental and committed to martinis. Frankie is peace and love and home births, and committed to weed. Yet, as their friendship grows, you see their similarity in a strong sense of self, a determined appetite for experience and expression, an outspoken claim on life. They help each other be themselves while constantly mocking each other.

Most onscreen depictions of female friendship find it hard to transcend the less-interesting aspects of Sex and the City: a single-till-married, wild-child idea of women's friendship sold as a lifestyle item. Other films about women, which make claims to feminism (Lipstick Under My Burkha, Pink), are beset by a clunky earnestness, making women examples, not characters. Despite female bonding, the imagination of personal and family life remains limited to coupledom and heterosexual families.

The idea of a friendship between older women as their primary nurturing relationship is powerful, precisely because it presents friendship as an optional intimate choice, not an accessory to convention. The relationship does not negate their children, other friends and even their coupled-up ex-husbands, but gently questions contemporary conventions. It makes space for a woman who is a great mom without giving birth to children, and a woman who has children but does not prioritise mommyhood. Frankie's ex sexually and romantically loves his partner, but also sees Frankie as his soulmate. "I have a very big heart, with a lot of compartments," he says.

The perfect blonde leaves her perfect doctor-husband because she's unhappy, not because he cheats on her. A chronic caretaker finds a hypochondriac whom everyone else in his family avoids, and an 80-year-old dies in her vibrator's arms. And though in a utopian way, this does mirror how relationships and families are actually changing around us with affection and kindness, not stern political slogans. In a sense, everyone is an odd couple, shaped by many types of love for self and others - but embracing this is the antidote to loneliness. As one character says, "There's a lid for every pot," and, it's not always matchy-matchy.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com

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