Fresh out of the ABC TV show Old People’s Home for Teenagers, participant Vya Pulavorty, age 14, has some wonderful observations about older people.
“I think old people and teenagers are not that different,” she told Indian Link. “We each have struggles to deal with and challenges to face in our lives. The gap in age doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be friends; it’s more of a reason we should be friends, because of all the advice that the older people have to give us younger ones.”
Of course, she hasn’t always felt this way.
Speaking about her own real-life experiences with older people before getting on the show, she revealed, “I thought I was good with older people, but they’d always seemed kind of mean to me. So at the start of the show, I felt like some of them could be difficult, or that they wouldn’t like me, but they all ended up being really sweet.”
It was perhaps this brand of honesty that Vya brought to the show that made her completely at ease in front of the camera, poised and confident in her own skin.
The series brought a bunch of teens and seniors together for an ‘intergenerational experiment’. As they engaged in specially designed activities of the physical, cognitive, creative, and reflective types, each cohort gained fresh perspectives on the challenges faced by the other. While for one group, it’s dealing with isolation, depression and failing health, the other deals with independence and developing a sense of self and self-worth.
For many participants, it became a transformational experience.
The second series in the show with teenagers follows a highly successful inaugural series with much younger children.
“I had watched the previous series as well as Old People’s Home for 4-Year-Olds with my family and we really liked them,” Vya said. “So I was really excited to be picked for the 2023 series.”
Paired with 80-year-old Dave for activities, Vya Pulavorty was able to establish a strong bond.
“Dave was one of the first people I talked to,” Vya recounted. “And then, coming in every day, I would just look for him first, and go straight to him. I was really lucky to get to know Dave because he is one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life, and it doesn’t matter that we come from different worlds.”
The friendship blossomed as they played paintball and badminton, danced after the pompom game, competed in the foam run, and played with the dog – and seems to have lasted beyond the show.
“We talk regularly now. When I met him last, he said to me, ‘Dig deep, my dear, and know your heart’”.
Also memorable for Vya was cooking with another senior Pat, in a sequence that’s become somewhat iconic from this series.
“She kind of got mad at me for not doing it in the traditional way, and I was asking to use the mixer,” Vya laughed. “I felt like I should have my way because it’s easier… but it was funny as I watched it back later!”
Vya Pulavorty also described the self-critique activity, where the youngsters had to look at their own reflection in the mirror, describe themselves, and then listen to other people’s descriptions of them.
“I got told I have nice eyes and face and smile. It was very sweet to hear that from somebody else. I think most of the young people felt like that – because I feel we never hear compliments enough from people.”
Did she enjoy the activities per se, or the sitting down and talking about it afterwards?
“Actually, talking about it later. And watching it over on TV now is like, oh my God, how much fun we had with it all! I thought the older people would be opinionated – with assumptions about us teenagers, and different views about politics and society. I was pretty surprised our seniors didn’t have any preconceived notions, and were open and accepting.”
As someone interested in the entertainment industry (Vya starts Year 11 this year at the Newtown High School of Performing Arts), she also learned much about how television operates.
“You trust the process,” she said with characteristic maturity.
“It was quite slow at times when they were setting up etc, but I really love how they kept it authentic. There were no retakes – it was all just completely pure and organic. There was no script telling us what to say. It truly showed how much we all changed from the start to the end.”
She said the adults opened up first.
“I was quite surprised about how much some of the adults changed just after a few weeks with us. Like John for instance, who was quite upset at the start. And then you see him so much better and so much more interested in life. I’m still friends with him – I saw him recently and he just seemed so much happier, he gave me the biggest hug. This really has positively impacted everybody.”
And then there was Lorraine.
“Lorraine talking openly about what she’s going through in her personal life was really inspiring for us teenagers. If she can talk about how she feels, we can do it too.”
Vya did talk about what she is going through too – in terms of reconciling her dual identity as an Indian-Australian kid. And while we didn’t see her resolve the issue on screen, it’s clear that she has come some way in doing so, looking back.
She agreed that no one on the show ever asked her what her background was or where she came from.
She was always ‘just Vya’.
“I was made to feel welcome,” she reported. “Every time I walked through the doors of the intergenerational hub, I’d be like, okay, these people love me and care about me, they’re gonna look out for me. It made me feel so much better about my identity – being my true self, just being real.”
And that may just be the single most transformational experience young Vya Pulavorty takes away from this show.
Old People’s Home for Teenagers is available on ABC iView