What’s an Indian wedding all about? A question often asked by many Western expats in the UAE — some out of curiosity, some having been invited to witness the razzle-dazzle first hand and many having being exposed to it via the media.
Nearly a decade ago, Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding thrilled the West with an accurate depiction of the behind-the-scenes activity of an affluent Delhi family wedding. There after came many highly publicised “Indian” weddings including the one that set the trend for the big fat Indian wedding — that of steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal’s daughter Vanisha’s nuptials to Amit Bhatia, a London-based investment banker.
According to an article in Newsweek, the wedding is rumoured to have cost $60 million (about Dh220 million). Mittal chartered jets to ferry the 1,000 guests to Paris, rented the 17th-century château and garden of Vaux le Vicomte for the wedding ceremony and hosted the engagement party at the iconic Palace of Versailles. The highlight of the seven-day gala affair was the Bollywood song and dance show where A-list stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukherjee and Saif Ali Khan performed, followed by a surprise appearance by Kylie Minogue.
Moolah on marriages
“If you have the money, there is no limit to how lavish your wedding can be,” says Rachna Chadha, an independent wedding consultant from the capital who has organised weddings where floral arrangements alone cost Rs5 million (about Dh398,000) and the crockery for a sit-down dinner for 50, specially sourced from Thailand, cost Rs1 million.
Weddings are always in vogue. And in India it is one of the fastest growing industries that is being tackled professionally with management teams handling everything from ideas and designs, to solutions and concepts.
This multibillion-dollar industry, which Standard Chartered Bank estimates to be worth $22 billion, is growing by about 20 to 30 per cent per annum. According to Mumbai-based wedding planner and designer Gurleen Puri, “An average wedding these days could range from Rs5 million to Rs500 million. It covers everything from invitation cards to bridal trousseau, jewellery, venues, F&B, decor, entertainment, gifts and packaging, photography, bridal make-up and henna applications, etc. In case of a destination wedding the cost heads would also include the stay and travel of the guests, their hospitality and ground transportation, etc.”
With so much potential, the wedding industry has led to growth in allied sectors such as wedding planners, entertainment agencies, florists and horticulturists, beauty clinics, cosmetic giants, travel, tourism and even matrimonial websites. They are all making money out of marriages. Perhaps the most noticeable symbol of this boom is its increasing professionalism, thanks to a new breed of wedding planners, who armed with their MBAs are turning the pandemonium into precisely orchestrated uber-extravagant affairs.
“We look after all the arrangements,” says Saurabh Agrawal, Chairman and Managing Director, Red Events India. “We provide our knowledge and expertise to plan the whole show including entertainment, décor, logistics [pick ups drops and transfers of guests and material], stationery and print material, hospitality of guests, vendor management, media management and value additions to add style to each event with unique decor concepts, theme events, value additions, with a world of options to choose from.”
Ahmedabad-based Red Events, a leading event management company, organised the Mutha family wedding last July. Pune-based business tycoon Suniel Mutha hosted his son Sidaarrth’s traditional Jain wedding to Niyati Karia, a jewellery designer. It took place in Bangkok and involved more than 20 agencies and 60 performers from both India and Bangkok, over a period of five days.
Weddings in India are all about being bigger, better and glitzier than the previous one — the rising middle class with its growing disposable income is taking cues from weddings such as the Arun Nayar and Elizabeth Hurley affair, whose wedding in the opulent Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur included Bollywood superstars such as Preity Zinta and designer Tom Ford. The curiosity was so high that Hello! magazine signed a multimillion-dollar deal for exclusive images and coverage.
Weddings today are a platform to showcase social status.For instance the Mutha wedding had specially designed wedding stationery and gifts that carried the wedding logo, a crew of more than 250 people including dancers for the wedding baraat, video and photography team, beauticians and make-up and henna artists, priests, caterers, decorators, choreographers and other entertainers all flown in from India.
Special arrangements were made for custom clearance and fast-track immigration procedures for wedding guests. Other little fancy touches that a million-dollar wedding gets you are personalised welcome cards at the hotel, personalised key card dockets for all guests, programme booklets, thank you letters, wedding vidhi (ritual) booklets and return gifts carry bags.
The recession-proof Indian wedding is unashamedly ostentatious and is constantly on the look out for the next big idea. “Forget being subtle,” quips Chadha, “Today it’s all about making a statement — I have clients who insist we fly down the calla lilies from France even if they are available in India.”
Say it with flowers
Another trend is the use of exotic flowers. The Mutha wedding, saw more than 40,000 metres of fabric being used, and tonnes of exotic flowers ranging from tropical flowers such as anthuriums and orchids, to the more expensive cymbidium orchids straight from the Himalayas, to rare varieties of liliums and marigold.
“As designers and wedding planners, you have to be on top of the game,” says Chadha, “I am constantly travelling and sourcing new and exciting props — I get candles from Spain, linen from France and a lot of glassware and bling including huge hurricane lamps from Turkey and flowers from Thailand. People no longer want the traditional toran [welcoming floral garlands strung at the entrance], instead it’s very elaborate show pieces set in vases filled with fresh fruits, coloured pebbles, broken glass, coloured sand with fresh flowers, gilded dry flowers, and candles.”
Among the images that India conjures up, one certainly is that of royalty and opulence — making it a great place for destination weddings. From Rajasthan’s royal palace hotels and Goa’s beaches to Kerala’s backwaters, India is the place of choice for many looking to tie the knot. But for Indians themselves, India has become trite, making them splash out on destination weddings at luxury resorts from Aruba to Macau.
Today, bridal exhibitions host stalls — from France, Austria, Mauritius, the Maldives and Switzerland — pushing themselves as wedding destinations. Popular locations include Bangkok, Phuket, Malaysia, Bali, Macau, and Mauritius. Emerging destinations are Dubai, Istanbul, Spain, Greece and Singapore.
Whether for a day or seven, whether in Mumbai or Macau — the Indian wedding only promises to get bigger.