When an Indian bride, buried under 20 kilograms of wedding finery squeals at the DJ for not having the song she’s supposed to walk in to, she isn’t just evoking an American pop-culture trope. (The one where the bride, face replaced with Godzilla’s, arms akimbo, is ready to flap the to-be groom to death with her bouquet. A veritable bridezilla who bullies her parents until they concede to her every whim, who demands that the bridesmaids never miss her calls and places herself squarely at the centre of her lilac-coloured wedding universe).
Our desi bride is actually many steps ahead. She’s perhaps setting the tone of her future marraige, where unlike her predecessors, she is going to be heard, whether anyone likes it or not.
Photo Courtesy: Coolbluez photography via vows and beyond
Girls who are about to get married are not content with scouring the markets for the perfect costume or sitting through layers of make-up for the most natural, dewy skin. They make multiple trips to the decorator for the right shade of tulips, do umpteen tasting sessions with the caterer to get the food right and endless discussions with the photographer to make sure each picture is perfectly synchronised. (And if it’s not done right, no one gets paid). Most girls take about a year off to ‘plan’ their wedding, and almost all have a say in the final outcome. And grooms have no option but to go along. Like restaurateur Kama KM, who got married recently and didn’t want the bride to spend too much money on her wedding lehenga. “She was going to wear it just once in her life. But she got her way anyway.”
A corporate executive, Shinjini Amitabh Chawla, 25, took eight months off before her wedding last October, a sabbatical which also resulted in a popular wedding blog, The Delhi Bride, which she now manages full time. She chose the venue, screen-tested an ‘entertaining’ pandit – one who would not only decode the Sanskrit mantras, but also intersperse them with humour – kept a folder filled with wedding-related Excel sheets, fixed a weekend date for an evening wedding and ensured that the ceremony was wrapped up before midnight. “Even though my husband’s family was initially worried about getting the baraat in daylight, it worked out well,” she says.
Wedding photographer, Kismet Jewell Nakai, 30, named her blog, The Unreal Bride, when she started it in 2010, long before she got married last year. But the nomenclature could have described her future self. Kismet was an unreal bride personified, who, when she was unable to find a field with lush grass and flowers, got married in a khet. But not before having it tilled and sown with grass for the wedding. Even then her budget never exceeded Rs. 8 lakh for the big day “We had a photo booth for the guests, used steel kettles as vases and chai glasses for drinks. And we had old, painted buckets with tea from Conoor as wedding favours. There were no religious ceremonies, just a party for friends and family. I wore blue instead of the traditional red.”
Marriages are arriving later than ever on the station, with brides deep in their twenties swatting away nagging relatives like so many flies. Many of them have led global lifestyles and have evolved tastes. They attend parties and know more than a thing or two about throwing them. So it’s impossible that the biggest party of their lives will not be the best party of their lives, especially when some of them contribute financially towards making it happen. Prospective bride Supriya Popli is 27 and runs a successful baking and wedding trousseau packing business. “I am making a contribution to the wedding and financial independence adds a lot of weight to your opinion. I want to know where my money is going,” she says. And whether that sum is big or modest, the wedding has to be personalised.
Twenty-somethings in India have more in common with their global counterparts than their parents who experienced every world trend at least a decade later. (Here’s looking at you, late hippies). Accordingly, they are more aware of trends in the world market. Charu Kataria, who has been planning weddings for the past 11 years, says most girls come with their minds made up. “They already know who Preston Bailey is (a popular international wedding planner) and ask for his style. Their priority is recreating a popular concept.”
Photo Courtesy: Banga photography via rubies and ribbon
Even as the trolls chip away digital pieces of hate and abuse, in the meringue-soft, pastel galaxy of weddings, the Internet is a happy place. Brides who run around for clothes fittings all day, tap keys for their blogs at night, documenting which shops are best for which kind of fabric. Almost all brides we spoke to for the story ran their own blogs and those who didn’t spend a chunk of their pre-wedding year online, looking for make-up videos, information on resources, and gawking at wedding boards on Pinterest. What stood out, though, was the DIY aspect of the weddings, whether it is papier mâché lamps, origami cranes or candles in jars for decor or ubiquitous photo booths. Many brides even choose to create the quirky props, bright backgrounds and the booth spaces on their own.
Budgets are important and expenses are strategic. Srinjini Chawla cut costs on her wedding lehenga to get an expensive wedding photographer (known for his ‘candid’ pictures), while another wedding blogger, Manushvi Chadha Gupta of the blog Vows and Beyond, who works as a pharmacist in Toronto and wed last year, didn’t give in when her parents demurred at spending a fair amount of money on a pre-wedding shoot. Sidra Ruby Ahmad, who is a lawyer in Canada and runs the blog Rubies and Ribbon, didn’t see the point in wasting time and money on extravagance: “I knew I’d be happy with something simple, as long as my closest family and friends were with me to share the day. I’d rather spend the money on our future home together.”
It never happened, until it happened on Facebook, they say. And there’s not a modern bride around who’d disagree. So, she carefully orchestrates the ceremonies, exhibiting her best angles because she knows it’s The Hunger Games played online. And the bride with the best pictures, images that capture the couple looking most in love and the family most jubilant, wins. Likes on Facebook and Instagram are the currency that worth is measured with. “As we saw with the universal online appeal of the inter-racial lesbian wedding (an Indian style, LA wedding where the lesbian couple wed in a lehenga and a gown, and the pictures went viral), Internet users are now sharing wedding pictures of people they don’t even know.
“Girls understand the power of a beautifully captured moment. So the photographs better look as beautiful as they can – which can’t happen without a picture-perfect wedding,” says Nandini Krishan, whose book Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage, was published recently. Perhaps that’s why bride-to-be and former PR professional, Ridhima Mangal, 26, who is shopping for her wedding in Australia even as you read this, threatened the photographer with no payment if he failed to get her engagement shot right (both bride and groom’s ring fingers in focus with their blurred, kissing faces in the background).
Photo Courtesy: Kismet Jewell Nakai via The Unreal Bride
She also made the bridal party dress in shades of orange and pink that matched her raspberry-coloured gown. Roli Gaur Vashisht who runs the blog Crazy Indian Wedding and recently launched her own designer label, even made her cousin shave his furry moustache, so he didn’t spoil the photograph.
Romantic literature and movies often chart and indelible map of a future love life, especially on young, impressionable minds. And for most post-liberalisation children, that would be the Hollywood romantic comedies of the ’90s (Runaway Bride, My Best Friend’s Wedding) which ran on TV ever so often through this generation’s early years. The rom-coms were embellished with episodic wedding scenes – think Julia Roberts in a beautiful wedding gown – that formed early notions of beautiful white weddings. Thus, most Indian weddings today, aided by Bollywood (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara), are desi motifs of white, Western weddings. “At my own sister’s wedding, we had a sit-down dinner, the entire best-man-speech drill and a toast. Bachelor and bachelorette parties are common and gowns and tuxedos can be seen in many weddings today,” says author Ira Trivedi.
Western blogs serve as easy inspiration, where the weddings are more centred on the bride. Although Manushvi Chadha Gupta got married in India, her bridal shower in Canada put a lot of focus on her as a bride. “A lot of desi and NRI brides already have bridesmaids and people easily comply with wearing whatever the bride asks them to. The wedding revolves completely around the bride and everyone understands that.” All this makes the heady toddy of individualism even harder to resist, especially for a generation called the ‘Millennials’ the world over, known for their extreme me-centric sensibilities.
The Indian bride is modern, she knows that marriage is about the man, at least in traditional aspects. But she also knows that the wedding day is the one day where the girl is free to call the shots without much interference. “It’s a day when an Indian girl doesn’t belong to her parents’ family or to the groom’s, she is completely free. And brides want to celebrate that,” says Jotica Sehgal, publisher of The Great Indian Wedding Book. “We grow up dreaming of this one day, which is supposed to change our lives. There is a lot of pressure put on a day, which has to turn out perfect,” she says. And like Hannah Seligson, journalist and author of A Little Bit Married, writes in The Daily Beast, “Perhaps the patina of selfishness that is seemingly justified in the moment by the feeling of “It’s my day” is really an excuse to insist on having it your way, a ...childhood last hurrah.”
Love marriages are gaining greater acceptability and so are grand declarations of love. “Marriage is a decision two people make together. Everyone else is just there to share the joy of that personal moment,” says Shalini Sekhar, who had a simple Bangalore wedding a few months ago with no religious ceremonies, in a cotton sari, with one friend singing Carnatic classical music, two others a song by Kabir and one reading a Jane Hirshfield poem. “We wanted the wedding to reflect us, our life together, and everything we loved. And it felt very personal,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Photo Courtesy: sunil varma
With inter-community marriages on the rise, children not only act like a link between families but also bridge the gap between diverse rituals. Like Supriya Popli, a Hindu who owns a baking business and will be marrying a Catholic boy. “We’ll ensure there’s no conflict since it’s a mixed wedding. I will arrange my mehendi ceremony in the afternoon only after the church wedding, so I don’t get married in a gown with mehendi on my hands.”
The biggest reason that girls are steering the wedding ship is to help with the mammoth preparations. In today’s nuclear families, parents can’t be expected to run around alone and the girls have to assume some of the responsibility. And while girls are increasingly financing part of their weddings, the parents still hold the purse strings. Intimate weddings are often followed by large receptions, for which the parents control the guest lists.
And however micro the managing becomes, most brides prefer handing the operations to friends and family a few days before the wedding and save themselves from the stress that might ruin their big day. A far cry from the hair-pulling, sharply shrieking Bridezillas of the West! .
Its all in the details
Communication designer Shalini Sekhar, who lives in Auroville, had a simple Bangalore wedding and a team of friends to help put things together. One of them even stitched her elaborate wedding ghagra. Her jewellery, done at the last minute, was mostly the silver ornaments her mother-in-law had gifted her and fresh flowers
One for the books
Soon to be wed, Ridhima Mangal, had detailed conversations about this engagement picture (the wedding band fingers in focus with them kissing in the background) with her photographer. She’d thought of the concept months in advance and wanted it just right
The vintage affection
NRI bride, Aman S, from Canada is passionate about DIY and managed a huge wedding without a wedding planner. Her intricately planned wedding involved a crazy 1,000 folded paper cranes, 700 tissue paper flowers and handmade bouquets for the bride and bridemaids. All done with the help of friends and family. She also managed to design not just her own outfits, which were inspired by old Bollywood heroines, but those of the bridal party as well!
Home only if your care
Bold declarations of love are getting more common. Like Shalini Sekhar who cut out her and her husband’s name in colourful paper (right) and Aman S, who created heart-shaped buntings for the decor
Flowers do say it all
Pharmacist Manushvi Chadha Gupta didn’t know that floral jewellery was a wedding tradition till a few weeks before her big day. But once she saw it online, it was instant love and she went all out to have special floral jewellery created for her mehendi ceremony.
A booth full of love
Kismet Jewell Nakai, who is a wedding photographer and runs a blog with her partner, April Sher Bhaika, spared no effort for her own wedding. Apart from having grass sown into a wheat khet specially for the day, she commissioned a blog in New Zealand to design her wedding card – like a vintage poster – and got a photo booth for the most memorable wedding pictures.
The rules are personal
Wedding favours are as unique as handmade soaps (far left) while the decor – kettles as flower pots (top) and paper cranes (below left) – is inspired from several Western wedding boards on Pinterest
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From HT Brunch, September 15
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