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How filmmakers are revolutionising the business of preserving memories

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Nov 10, 2015 12:18 IST
Poorva Joshi
Indian weddings

This is a refreshing change from wedding films that were often a mishmash of garish music and grainy footage peppered with tacky graphics(Photo: Reels and Frames)

Earlier this year, a four-minute short film, Nurture, went viral almost overnight. It has clocked close to three lakh views on YouTube since then. A touching story of a Punjabi wedding set in Chandigarh, it had all the makings of a potboiler — emotions, drama and romance. As the bride and groom walk hand-in-hand, the camera cuts to a shot of the brides’s brother beaming with pride. The film is shot to Lana Del Ray’s melancholic number, The Lucky Ones, playing in the background.

This is a refreshing change from wedding films that were often a mishmash of garish music and grainy footage peppered with tacky graphics. For the past couple of years, wedding films have undergone a sea of change, all thanks to a bunch of film-making enthusiasts, who are turning personal stories into an almost Bollywood-like saga on screen.

Remember Heartbeats, a wedding film that released in 2013? The tearjerker shot by The Wedding Filmer (TWF) — one of the first modern wedding film production companies in India — revolved around a girl who was certain she wanted to get married and a boy who didn’t believe in the institution of marriage. Ultimately, the boy decides to take the plunge. The film was also the country’s first documentary to enter The DIY Film Festival in London the same year.

“When I saw Heartbeats, it made me want to get married,” says Shayak Roy, a film-maker who got married last year and hired a videographer to capture his wedding, “Our story was inspired by the city of Kolkata and the bylanes of my ancestral home. My wedding film had a lot of establishing shots that had me talking, against the background of the city.”

Roll, camera, action

A lot has changed since 2013. Unlike the traditional wedding films that documented every second of the wedding, candid videos focus on capturing real emotions with the help of slickly edited shots, high definition filming techniques and even a made-to-order background score. For instance, for Heartbeats, TWF’s first big hit, founder Vishal Punjabi created an original soundtrack. “During the mehendi ceremony, the bride’s aunt sang Din Shagna Da Chadeya, a traditional Punjabi song. But she was completely out of tune and I couldn’t stand it,” he says. That’s when the crew came up with the idea of recreating the song in a studio. “The couple agreed and we ended up making a music video for the wedding too,” he adds.

A former line producer and video creator with Red Chillies Entertainment, Punjabi found his experience of working on Bollywood films like Main Hoon Na (2004) and Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd (2007), come in handy. When he filmed his own wedding in 2010, as a two-part short film, it found instant success. “My friends loved the treatment of the film and the cinematography. They suggested that I do this full-time,” he says. TWF, today, is a team of seven and consists of cinematographers and directors of photography, who work with Punjabi on a contract basis. Fun fact: they even shot the wedding sequence of Kalki Koechlin’s character in the film Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013).

A still from Heartbeats (2013) (Photo: The Wedding Filmer)

Caught on camera

The rise of these modern wedding videographers runs parallel to the introduction of affordable filming equipment. Right from Sony’s inexpensive wide-angle camera, the S-VHS (which came with an inbuilt automatic tape recorder), in 1987, to the age of the Canon Mark ii 5d, in 2008, film-making has become more approachable and easy to handle.

“Around 2005, high definition cameras were used to capture candid photos in weddings — from a shot of the bride’s exquisite lehenga to certain moments during the pheras. When DSLRs were enabled with video capturing capabilities, the same shots could be captured on film,” says Anand Rathi, founder of Reels and Frames, a four-year-old Mumbai-based company. Today, these film-makers employ everything from drone cameras to GoPros and Steadicams.

Given how weddings are an intimate affair, it is essential for the couples to trust their videographers completely. “We have to be sensitive while documenting memories because it’s a special day for the couple. Giving it our best shot is the least we can do,” says Punjabi.

At times, film-makers even spend three to four months with the couples, getting to know their friends and family. “It’s a strange friendship that we create with our clients. It is meaningful but lasts only till the project ends,” says Jyotirmoy Dutta, founder of Studio Zeppic, a two-year-old company.

(Photo: Reels and Frames)

Big bucks

With so much effort going into each film, the cost is also significant. TWF’s highest paid project so far cost a whopping Rs 48 lakh and was shot over ten days and across three cities with a 23-member crew. “It was almost two hours long. This goes on to prove that people are willing to pay whatever it takes to get a good product,” says Punjabi.

He recently shot an international wedding in Greece and found it to be a completely different experience. “Internationally, weddings are more structured. If I am not constantly on the lookout for ceremonial moments, I will miss the entire wedding. Indian weddings are all over the place — if I miss one action, I almost always get another,” he says. Hence, the total cost per film boils down to the cameramen required, the number of days they are hired for and the length of the final film.

Despite the astronomical costs, clients are inclined towards opting for well-shot wedding films as they come with some bragging rights too. In fact, social media deserves some credit for fuelling the rise of wedding films. Since 2010, when Facebook gathered momentum in India and words like ‘viral’ and ‘shares’ became common in our lexicon, clients aspired to create content that could be viewed by millions. “We have clients specifically asking us to create videos that could go viral. They are willing to try exotic locations, novel camera techniques, music and just about anything,” adds Rathi.

And what could grab more eyeballs than an underwater wedding? Rathi has so far shot five such weddings. “I learnt how to swim specially for the first underwater wedding. It was a challenge as there were a lot of things to be shot in the water: the bride’s dress, the bridesmaids and their dresses, etc. But it turned out well. Now, it is just like shooting any other wedding,” he adds.

The film-makers are primarily drawn to the profession owing to the stories they get to narrate (Photo: Jyotirmoy Dutta)

The storytellers

Besides the significant income involved, the film-makers are primarily drawn to the profession owing to the stories they get to narrate. “The treatment of the film matters the most. The songs and the editing have to complement the personality of the couples we work with,” says Dutta.

Social media hits play an important role in the publicity but word of mouth still trumps digital marketing for smaller companies. For instance, Sakshi Shroff, an independent film-maker and a film student, shot her first wedding in March and has already made four more this year. “The couple I shot referred my name to their friends who were getting married,” says Shroff, of her growing clientele.

Courtesy this very sentiment, the market size too has expanded since the early 2000s. The last decade has seen the amount spent on weddings, of the total wedding cost, shoot up from four per cent to ten percent. Rathi, however believes that the investment in wedding films has a cap and won’t exceed 15 per cent of total expenditure.

As for innovation in content and the effort taken to represent love on-screen, the sky is the limit.

Must- watch wedding videos

Sea-side vows by Viga Productions: A wedding musical from Kerala, it captures the essence of a traditional Malayali wedding.

Heartbeats by The Wedding Filmer: A heart-wrenching Punjabi wedding, the story revolves around a marriage non-believer who converts to a believer for the love of his life.

The Dancing Wedding by Julien Charpentier : An Indian groom marries his French bride over three days of festivities in Pune.

Lesha & Katya by Art Island: A Russian wedding film, it is masterfully edited with sharp, high definition visuals.

Crazy/Love by Wedding Filmer: A story of love lost and found, the story is about a quirky couple who were destined for one another.

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