It’s not Vegas. Not yet. But India is flaunting wild weddings with pageantry and pomp. On her big day, actress and Harley Davidson-enthusiast Gul Panag’s entourage that included her 65-year-old aunt made a roaring entrance to the venue on 150 motorbikes. The New Indian Wedding is a splurge of fantasy, flourish and flamboyance. Many Indian couples now opt for high priced Western couture; Armani suits and formal Versace or Dior gowns. The traditional meets imaginative: pink autorickshaws have taken the doli’s place in many weddings. Themes range from Angels and Demons to Pakeezah. Wedding charters to distant lands are common; you can even hire a country — Liechtenstein for £400,000 — for a wedding. A recent Indian wedding was held over many days at different castles in Florence. The finale was at the Ferragamo castle.
Famous artists are paid crores of rupees to paint at wedding receptions. A recent wedding venue was turned into a red carpet event; actors playing ‘international’ journalists interviewed guests live, played gigantic screens. Rock stars cost a bomb for a private wedding concert: rapper Remez Sasson charges Rs 25 crore. Of course, for desi glamour, there is always Shah Rukh or Katrina wiggling their hips on stage.“Shakira costs a million-and-a-half dollars while Akon charges two to three hundred thousand dollars. Flo Rider or David Guetta cost less: around $150,000. Bollywood A-listers like the Khans cost Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 2 crore a night,” says veteran wedding maestro Aditya Motwane.The $10-billion Indian wedding market is making heaven on earth. Change is the mot juste. At one recent wedding, guests performed on stilts on a designer stage as others clapped. South India is shedding its reputation for conservative weddings. Chennai is buzzing with preparations for the wedding of the season between Apollo Group scion Adit Reddy and business magnate Rajiv Rai’s daughter Ritika later this month. The Grand Chola hotel hasn’t opened yet, but will be the special wedding venue. The invitation card, depicting Lord Ganesha painted by artist Thotta Tharani, has already become a precious keepsake. Chennai is yet to see actors performing for a fee. Skits and dances for sangeet and mehendi are put together by families, with Mollywood choreographers doing their bit. In July, at prominent film director Selvaraghavan’s wedding, his sister performed on stage. Celebrity choreographer Kalyan orchestrated the dances.Chennai’s cultural sheen shines at weddings. Music concerts are a big draw. Hariharan sang at late matinee star Sivaji Ganesan’s grandson Dushyant Ramkumar’s wedding this month. At another venue, santoor maestro Shiv Kumar Sharma performed. The new trend is to get winners of reality shows to entertain. ‘’I invited Biju Nair, the winner of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, to perform at my daughter’s wedding,” recalls cultural impresario and event manager Nalini Radhakrishnan. Traditional dances such as Karagattam and Mayilattam are reminiscent of feudal and royal traditions. Nalini’s daughter Lavanya wanted her marriage to be traditional, so famous karagattam, mayilattam and puliattam dancers were invited. Her spectacular reception followed a village theme — south Indian red and white temple wall, a bullock cart, a platform outside the house for people to sit on and a bar inside a well. In Bangalore, Arabic and Moroccan theme weddings, complete with fire blowers and belly dancers are in demand. Former Miss India Divya Chauhan, Managing Partner of Divyavithika Wedding Planners, says the idea is to get talked about. “We recently did a baraat in the Dabangg theme with Aviator glasses, shiny hearts and Bollywood bling,” she says. When Mallika Reddy, granddaughter of G V Krishna Reddy of the GVK Group, and Sidharth, son of realty billionaire Indukuri Syam Prasad Reddy married, fashionistas Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla created the mandap in red velvet and gold, with chandeliers made of jasmine. Everyone doesn’t have the Reddy pedigree, but that doesn’t stop the wealthy from blowing the big bucks. Often going-home gifts are more lavish than wedding presents. At a recent Hyderabad wedding, the ladies received pearls and the men expensive Italian suit material. Another time, guests received digital car-televisions; at another, iPads. The North has set the bar for wedding spending. Haryanvi farmer Kishan rode a helicopter to his bride’s village. Politicians spend freely; when Congress leader Kanwar Singh Tanwar’s son married, reportedly Rs 21 crore and a silver dummy of a helicopter were gifted to the bride. The whole affair reportedly cost Rs 250 crore. At another wedding, a minister’s entire constituency was invited and tribals, who were employed by his Trust created the return gifts.Punjabi weddings are the most ostentatious. “This is one time in our lives that we get to brashly show off. Being Punjabi means living a gregarious lifestyle and it shows in our marriages too,” says Ashish Bansal, Delhi industrialist, whose daughter will marry her childhood sweetheart in an elaborate ceremony spread over seven days in four different cities. Maninder Singh Sethi, CEO, Wedding Asia, agrees. “Punjabi weddings know no boundaries. Spending power has increased and so have expectations. In 2006 when we started Wedding Asia, we found that fashion from Mumbai travelled to Delhi, and then reached smaller cities in Punjab like Ludhiana. Now designers and exhibitors are specifically designing for people here,” he says. As Sethi states, most big weddings are planned well in advance. Exclusivity is de rigeur when it comes to wedding invites. Tony card designer Ravish Kapoor says, “People are willing to spend big bucks on exquisite, over-the-top cards,” says Kapoor who merges the Oriental and Western in his cards. “Many tend to stick with traditional colours — burgundy, gold and bronze,” says Kapoor. “But in their party cards, they tend to be more adventurous — cream and gold with a Western flair.” Material like suede and velvet are in fashion. Invitations come in outlandish boxes. One of Kapoor’s landmark designs was the ‘Saat pheras’ — a box with a tiny mandap and gifts. Another card was shaped like a wedding cake. Puneet Gupta, another card designer popular with the chi chi set, says conventional, traditional silk-screen prints are in. “Cards with metallic foil and advanced digital printing are sought after,” he says.Sets range from the elegant to the fantastic. Bangalore-based impresario Prasad Bidappa says that from underworld dons to the noveau riche, anyone who wants to impress does so at a wedding. “I have built temples as a backdrop, imported tulips from Holland, and orchids and roses from Singapore. Invitation cards should never go out by themselves. Each must be accompanied by business class tickets if it is a destination wedding, ‘his and hers’ designer watches, Belgian chocolates or rare cognacs. Entertainment acts like a 110-member symphony orchestra playing love ballads are dramatic wealth and style statements,” he says. Indian themes are always a good sell, especially with overseas guests: recreating the Rajput gharana, the opulence of the Mughal Sultanate or the Chola Dynasty,” says Bidapa. “Larger-than-life themes revolving around epic movies, whether English or Hindi, Club Lounge themes from Manhattan, LA and Miami are exciting.” For a client, Bidappa recreated the Nikki Beach look sans water. “It was all white with lounge beds on the sand dunes of Jodhpur!” remembers the designer. He says Oriental, Las Vegas and Buddha Bar settings are refreshing. “Eco-friendly themes are in demand. Unconventional themes like spice markets, dons and divas are also popular, as is Phantom of the Opera and Pakeeza theme weddings,” says Bidappa. Food trends have changed. “We’ve flown down seven chefs once representing virtually every international cuisine — Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican, Lebanese and Spanish — along with their teams,” he says. Specialty food such as tapas and Japanese are favourites. “Small portions of food are the big trend. Bite size is in!” says Bidappa.The menu for each day of the extravaganza has to be more exotic than the previous day’s. Masterchef Marut Sikka, who has catered for many millionaire weddings at home and abroad, says international chefs with a stellar repertoire are flown in specially for the occasion. “They use interesting rare ingredients that are delightful to the palate. But still there are a few Indian dishes that people can’t do without. Once these are chosen, people ask for other adventurous cuisine like Polynesian, Caribbean and Moroccan,” he says.Vineet Wadhwa, the food and beverage stylist of Cuisines and Concepts, says staples reign. “This year, too, Kakori Kababs, Tabakh Tawa, Noodle Bar, Salad Bars, Fruit Flambé, Pasta Station, Peri-Peri, Steak House, Rotisserie, Sushi, Teppanyaki, Galouti Kabab, Bhatti Da Murgh, Shawarma, Amritsari Kulchas, Pathar Ke Kabab, Shahi Warqi Paranthe, Dumba, Biryanis and Salans are in demand,” he says.Indians love a moveable feast. Glamorous locales in Thailand, Dubai, the Maldives and Europe are turning weddings into colourful holidays. Thailand’s resorts offer great service, whether it be for a yacht wedding or on an island off the coast. Europe and Australia are pricier destinations. At an Indian wedding held in Florence recently, a group of giggling girls wearing henna on their hands were recognised as wedding guests. “The drawings on your hands show a big Indian wedding is happening here,” locals told them. The Indian multimillionaire who is hosting an overseas wedding travels like a Moghul king, with an entourage packed in a chartered aircraft. For one wedding held recently in London, the host filled one airplane with his guests and the other with photographers, event managers, the set designer and his staff, a celebrity chef and his entire culinary minions along with family servants.In India, Goa is a favoured wedding location. The mere millionaire charters a plane for friends and family, hires an entire resort for a few days, party endlessly and organises vows on the beach. “Stretches of silver sand, swaying palms and the soft whisper of the sea in Goa inspire love,” says wedding planner Vishv Vijae of Regal Weddings. Palace weddings enthrall. Heritage weddings are imbued with Rajput royal legacy. Hotels are too happy to oblige. For the recent wedding of a billionaire jeweller’s daughter that took place in Jodhpur, all the five big hotels in the city were booked; Umaid Bhawan organised a shower of roses from the galleries; even a one-day cricket match was organised.For Chennaites, too, Goa and Bangkok are popular wedding destinations. “I did a wedding in Goa with the mandap on the beach, right next to the sea at sunset. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg flew in on his private jet!” recalls Vidya Gajapati Raj Singh, wedding planner, Sumyog. Nalini shares an instance of a dream wedding in Goa, where the mehendi ceremony was held on a yacht, and cost several crores of rupees. “The bar was on one side and on the other were musicians,” she remembers. Says wedding planner Vandana Mohan. “The adventurous want Phantom of the Opera themes and more,” she says. To give a romantic atmosphere to bespoke venues, candle designer Sabbah Sheikh recommends rose-shaped candles with lots of gold dust, heavily embellished with zircons, demotes, pearls and sparkles. “They last long, come in all sizes and price brackets and highlight the beautiful colours of an Indian wedding,” she says. The floral decoration industry blooms during wedding season. “Artificial flowers for bold and contemporary decorations are gaining popularity this season, three times more than the last year. Crystal flowers and butterflies are being used this season,” says Lalita Raghav, Vice President, Ferns N Petals. Lotus theme decorations are the most popular.The unseen star of the show stays behind the camera — the wedding photographer. Ronicka Kandhari is a successful lifestyle photographer who has captured many big weddings. “Since I started my career as a fashion photographer, I thought blending glamour with emotion would be a great idea. Also, since I am a keen observer, candid and mood photography was a natural progression,” she says. Discretion is at a premium, considering her client list: the royal family of Saudi Arabia, the Jindals, TVS and Infosys, and the Punjs. “Work starts two months in advance. I have to get personally involved with the family to understand what they are feeling. I study my subjects in detail,” says Ramit Batra, wedding photographer. Coffee table books are replacing the good old wedding album. There are two kinds: one for the family and the other for the general public. The family book has unforgettable private moments: the bride and the bridegroom stealing a furtive kiss, a father-in-law whose dhoti had a wardrobe malfunction, the sister gorging on chocolates that were wedding gifts. “Candour, intimacy and fly-on-the-wall discreetness is my USP and is something I have sought in my work right from the start of my career,” says Kandhari. Wedding photographers bill their clients lakhs of rupees. Chennai designer Sidney Sladen recalls how a close friend spent lakhs on a digitalised photo album with around 150 pages. After books, can wedding movies be far behind? Roopak Kapoor, Director, Make My Movie, has made films for business barons like Lord Bagri, Ashok Kapur and Abhimanyu Munjal. He says “We get into the very heart of the wedding, starting out by understanding the cast and its main protagonists.” Kapoor says moments that matter are the tear jerkers starring emotional mothers and sisters; a flamboyant brother showing off his watch premium watch collection; the sister running around haplessly looking for a plug for her blow drier and many more. All these aren’t always impromptu: many done under the supervision of the on-location director. The post-production director ensures that the edit standard is world class, with interviews and bytes woven seamlessly between the ceremonies and celebrations. Appropriate background music and slick graphics enhance the look of the film. “About 10 to 12 million weddings take place in India each year,” says Dhiraj Kacker, CEO, Canvera. “New concepts and trends keep emerging every now and then.” And the show goes on.
-With Sapnnaa Kapoor and Simran Dhaliwal