Ansu George got married to Vipin Mathew at a church ceremony in Dubai last December. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Marriage or mortgage? The new Netflix show that asks couples to choose between having a lavish celebration or buying a home would no doubt have many relating to both sides of the debate.

But away from the reality show, thanks to COVID-19, other dimensions to the options have also come into play. Global travel restrictions, local social distancing protocols and financial uncertainties have put big fat weddings on hold with intimate, even virtual, affairs becoming the norm. Some look at it as a compromise. Others are thankful for the default savings.

Paradigm shift

Either way, the wedding as we knew it has changed. There’s a paradigm shift in the way people are getting married these days. And yes, it goes without saying that an entire industry has adapted itself to the new normal, innovating ways to make the celebrations as special as can be under the circumstances.

Dubai-based South African wedding celebrant Theresa Du Point talks about a desert wedding she recently presided over in Dubai. “With current wedding protocols restricting the number of guests, we created a small circle of love, whereby less than 10 guests stood around the British couple with the required physical distance. As the ceremony within the circle took place, it was an amazing moment. The setting symbolised a circle of not only love, but one of protection too,” said Theresa.

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Dubai-based South African wedding celebrant Theresa Du Point. Image Credit: Supplied

Elsewhere, on the beach of a five-star hotel in Dubai, it was a more intimate affair. As Theresa explained, “There was just the bride and the groom — and a cut-out of their pet dog on the heart-shaped dais that was created specially for the occasion. Of course, there was me, a photographer and videographer. The nuptials were watched online by the couple’s family back in the UK and Cyprus.”

Technology is certainly playing a bigger part in weddings today — with entire ceremonies being planned as virtual celebrations.

Menka Bhatia and Preeti Sahpuri of Love Details Events say live broadcasts of weddings have become the norm. “Photographers and videographers are expected to live telecast weddings, so couples can connect with their loved ones back home. Many a time, that includes everyone from parents, grandparents, extended family and friends.”

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Wedding planners Menka Bhatia and Preeti Sahpuri. Image Credit: Supplied

Besides the functions being beamed live and interactions being enabled on various online platforms, there are other ways too in which technology is being employed.

Wedding apps

Girish Tirthwani, events director at Dubai-based Scream Entertainment & Events and Vyah Weddings, says the company now offers Wedding Apps to its clients. “Wedding Apps have become our latest addition to our services. Mainly because it’s digital and it’s convenient. The app can be downloaded on Google Play or the App Store and we recommend it for three-six months only as it’s for a particular event. We feel it’s one of the most important services, specially for destination weddings as guests can plan their trips and communicate through one platform.”

Events director Girish Tirthwani. Image Credit: Supplied

He explains how the app features tailored sections on Agenda, Dress Code, Social Chat, Guest List, Gallery and Personalised Messages for guests.

But just how busy has the wedding season been amid COVID-19?

436 Indian weddings

According to Siddhartha Kumar Baraily, Consul (Press, Information & Culture) at Consulate General of India in Dubai, a total of 436 weddings in the Indian community were registered at the consulate during the pandemic in the past one year.

Wedding planners say couples are spending more on decor and locations amid COVID-19 Image Credit: Supplied

The wedding planners say travel and movement restrictions resulted in a number of cancellations. Tirtwani, who handles weddings of different nationalities like Indian, Pakistani, Emirati, Arabs, European and British, says, “Last year, we did only six weddings, as compared to 25-30 (sometimes even more) in one year. Initially, a lot of weddings had been postponed or just turned out to be a small family affair. But once we educated our clients following the guidelines given by the authorities, we have been able to conduct weddings in a safe environment. The industry in general is very sceptical as clients are still unclear about future restrictions, but we hope in the coming few months there will be promising changes and we can return to full-fledged events.”

Less is more

However, given the circumstances, there is no denying that the wedding industry and those they cater to are making the most of what’s possible.

Emaar Hospitality Group is offering an 85-foot luxury boat as a wedding venue keeping in mind the government's restrictions on the number of guests and social distancing. Image Credit: Supplied

Mark Kirby, head of hospitality, Emaar Hospitality Group, which has just launched an 85-foot luxury boat offering opulent facilities for weddings, among other events, says, “We hosted quite a few weddings at our unique Address locations during the last year, keeping in mind the government’s restrictions with the number of guests and social distancing, while making it elegant and dreamy. The costs have lowered for the couple with reduced guest numbers — this means couples are now looking at elaborate decorations and exquisite locations to make their D-Day memorable.”

According to him, “Intimate weddings also make it special for the bride and groom, helping them focus on what they essentially like to do together, as several other wedding-related hiccups are getting easier on them with smaller guests lists.”

Tirtwani says, “Every client’s perspective towards COVID-19 compromise is different, as weddings in general are a happy affair and one of the biggest events in a person’s life, but it’s a fact that everyone needs to accept it and plan their wedding accordingly. Some clients can now spend more on decor, photoshoots, personalised hampers from the budget savings and make the wedding even better with fewer guests. You know the saying ‘less is more’.”

What the newly weds are saying

Ansu George, 27, who got married to Vipin Mathew in a church ceremony in Dubai in December last year, says, “We had planned a big wedding with around 1,000 guests in Kerala, India. When COVID-19 hit, we were unsure how we would proceed. We realised we would have to get married in Dubai — it was the best option.”

Looking back, she is thankful for the intimate wedding with a scaled down guest list. “It gave me time to spend with my close family and thoroughly enjoy every moment of it. I was also lucky that my childhood friends were in UAE at the time.”

Ansu George and Vipin Mathew Image Credit: Supplied

In terms of savings, she says they paid a premium for the location in Dubai. But with far fewer guests, they were also able to provide “more with less”. “Quality of the venue, food, safety etc were a premium and the overall experience of an intimate wedding was enjoyable,” says Vipin. “Also, after the year we all had, when our close family and friends got together for the wedding, it truly felt like a blessing, a staycation.”

Another Indian couple echoed the same feelings. Aditi Amish Dhanak, 25, who married Rahul Jaidev Nagwani, 28, on November 27 at Ras Al Khaimah, said, “Thanks to the pandemic, we had to change our wedding venue several times. We first wanted to get married in New Delhi, but due to the circumstances at the time, we could not. Ras Al Khaimah proved to be the perfect wedding destination and it really made it happen for us.”

Aditi Amish Dhanak married Rahul Jaidev Nagwani in Ras Al Khaimah. Image Credit: Supplied

She said, “In terms of the budget, believe it not, we spent about half of what we would have in New Delhi as we had fewer guests.”

Grateful to be married

Taher K Warorawala, 28, founder, TW Entertainment, says, “People who want to spend will still spend. Where we are really seeing changes are in terms of cuts in the guest list.”

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Wedding planner Taher K Warorawala. Image Credit: Supplied

Nitesh Lakhiani, 28, and Divya Narain, also 28, who got married in Ajman this month, too did what they could do best. “When we imagined our wedding, we always pictured our friends and family dancing with us, with rituals like juta chhupana, pholoon ki chador and the fun-filled baaraat. These are things without which an Indian wedding is incomplete. Little did we know that we would face multiple delays and we would eventually get married with no song and dance and just our immediate family because of a pandemic,” says Nitesh.

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Nitesh Lakhiani and Divya Narain got married in Ajman earlier this month. Image Credit: Supplied

At the end of the day, as Divya put it COVID-19 altered wedding plans big time — from a “grand” to a “grateful” celebration.

COVID-19 wedding protocol:

Reduced capacity

Safe distance

General sanitisations

Dance floor restrictions

Face mask is a must