At one end of a ground the size of a football field stands a grand stage with snazzy lights and the best sound system. Twelve thousand people are seated in front of it, their feet tapping in rhythm to the chartbusters that Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are belting out, their hands occasionally reaching out to the array of canapés being served by waiters in smart suits.
Soon the lights dim and the act changes: a man and a woman dressed in glitzy finery make a slow aerial entry suspended from giant cranes, almost like blingy angels descending from heaven. In their hands they carry garlands, which they expertly exchange, almost as though they have practised the move a dozen times before. Applause and cheers follow.
Photo: Vinayak Das and Snigdha Sheel
On another night, in another place – a faraway, exotic one this time – a group of about a hundred people sits down for dinner in Greek-inspired settings. Soft white curtains billow in the breeze, white tulips from the Netherlands compete with white orchids from Taiwan, and sterling silver cutlery is complemented by expensive crystal flutes.
The bride and groom walk in, elegantly dressed in matching beige lehenga and sherwani. They peck at the caviar, truffles and foie gras elegantly. Later, they clink glasses, read out their vows, and raise a toast.
These are settings for the weddings of the rich and the famous. These are heady affairs, a far, far cry from what you, I and the average Joe know about weddings.
Shine like crazy diamonds
“A luxury wedding can take anywhere between 15 days to 18 months or more to conceptualise, design and produce,” says Neelabh Kapoor, founder and creative director of Studio Neelabh. An experiential wedding design company, Studio Neelabh has worked on some of the biggest, most extravagant Indian weddings in the one decade that it has been around.
"We recently did two of the biggest weddings in India to date. The Guptas, one of the most influential families in South Africa, had a destination wedding in Jaipur. A dozen chartered flights brought guests from various parts of the world; chief ministers of all the states were present, and so were all the Bollywood A-listers."
The second wedding, hosted by one of the biggest business families in Surat, broke all records in terms of scale, to become the biggest wedding in the history of modern Indian weddings.
"About 36,000 people attended the event over three days! We produced three mega wedding concerts, with 220 live performing artistes – from Pritam, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Kapil Sharma and Terence Lewis, to many Bollywood actors," says Kapoor.
Photo: Studio Neelabh
To put things in perspective, the first edition of the NH7 Weekender – that music festival everyone goes gaga over every year – drew a crowd of only 10,000, and so did the first edition of Goa’s Sunburn Festival. The Surat wedding was like three such music festivals in one!
If you’ve got it, flaunt it. And we aren’t talking looks here. Video jockey and actor Rannvijay Singh, of Roadies fame, had 18 functions and parties when he got married to London-based Prianka Vohra in April this year. "The grand wedding celebrations took place all over the world – Mumbai, Delhi, Dubai, London… the main wedding was held in Mombasa, Kenya," Singh said, sharing some of the details.
"What made our wedding such a fabulous affair were these intricate little things, like the fact that I arrived on a tractor decorated with phulkari in Mombasa, and instead of giving money to my sisters-in-law and my girlfriends who attended the wedding, I bought gold bracelets for everyone."
Stuff of fairytales
However, not all the rich and famous like to go over the top at their weddings. Actress Dia Mirza, who got married to her longtime business partner and producer Sahil Sangha last month, tells us about her relatively less ornate Delhi wedding.
“The mehendi ceremony was all floral, kitsch, Rajasthani themed. I insisted on using only local flowers. We had a qawwali singer and dhol-tappa walis who sang traditional Punjabi songs. The food was chaat and North Indian ghar ka khaana like kadhi chawal and rajma chawal.”
Photo: Adil Hasan
The wedding was a simple Arya Samaj ceremony. "Sahil came with a baarat that was supposed to take an hour-and-a-half, but actually took four hours to arrive," Mirza laughs. "But you had to see my mandap! It was so beautiful with elements of crystals, lovely fresh flowers and twigs."
Didn’t she want a big, fat, glamorous wedding? "As you travel, meet different people and get exposed to new life experiences, a lot of that starts resonating in the choices that you make," she says.
"While I wanted the wedding to be beautiful, I also wanted it to be intimate and representative of our personal choices as individuals. Given that I’m half-German, half-Bengali, grew up in a Hyderabadi Muslim household and was marrying a Punjabi, a lot of those cultural influences permeated into different aspects of the décor, the clothes, the tehzeeb, and the food. My wedding was just perfect for me."
When less is more
Many celebrities do seem to be going down the same unassuming road as Mirza when it comes to celebrating the most important day of their lives. Earlier this month, Fukrey star Pulkit Samrat got married to Salman Khan’s ‘rakhi sister’ Shweta Rohira at a destination wedding in Goa.
While the tabloids were buzzing with stories and pictures of “Bhai” and other celebs at the wedding, sources who attended the wedding said it was in fact a close-knit affair of about 200 people, consisting mostly of family and friends. “There were no stars performing at the wedding, nor was it over-the-top glam. It was a nice, warm event with lots of food, booze and drunken dancing… just like any typical Punjabi wedding,” a source said.
Photo: Prakash Tilokani
Around the same time, actor and TV anchor Gaurav Kapur got married to long-time girlfriend Kirat Bhattal, a TV host on a lifestyle channel. Theirs too was an intimate, private ceremony in Chandigarh, attended by the couple’s friends from the industry like Neha Dhupia, Yuvraj Singh, Maria Goretti and Mini Mathur, most of whom were dressed simply.
“These two crazies got married today and it was nothing short of perfect,” photographer Prarthna Singh (@psingh400) tweeted with a photo from the wedding.
Why Indian fashion designers are obsessed with weddings
Back in Delhi, chess champion Tania Sachdeva got married to architect Viraj Kataria in a traditional wedding that lasted six days. “In the olden days, in the villages of Punjab, the women would carry matkas on their heads (the matka had a small fire burning inside it), and go from house to house to invite people. We did that as a little tradition for Tania’s mehendi,” says her mother Anju Sachdev.
“These special little touches made the wedding so much fun… like Tania entering the sangeet not as a coy bride but dancing to the song Lag Gayi Lottery. It wasn’t a destination wedding, but everyone who attended, came out feeling it was nothing short of one.”
Mirza echoes her sentiments, “For me simplicity is beauty. The desire is not to make a statement but to create an environment where everybody comes together and has a wonderful time.” She says that for a lot of people, especially those who are not a part of the movies, a wedding is that one big occasion of their lives where they get to live a dream, a movie.
Malini Agarwal, of the website MissMalini, had a beach carnival theme for her mehendi and a complete Bollywood theme for her sangeet in Goa. "There were a lot of giveaways at my mehendi – colourful bindis, silver anklets and goodie bags," she says. "At the sangeet, DJ Aqeel made sure everyone got their full Bollywood dose. Other fancy touches included little ‘wear me’ and ‘eat me’ signs all over the venue."
When weddings become so beautiful (or showy, or over-the-top), what better way to remember them years later than through photographs – which can cost as much as the bridal lehenga, or more.
Also read:Wedding photography: The next big thing
Prakash Tilokani, 48, is known as the man who photographs the luxury weddings of India’s rich and famous. His client list includes the Ambanis, Laxmi Mittal, Bhushan Kumar of T-Series, Shilpa Shetty and many more.
“Capturing a wedding with a fixed thought process is absurd; every wedding is unique,” Tilokani says. “Emotions dominate and one has to emotionally immerse oneself to capture the essence. Also, every wedding has a theme to it these days so I try to capture and retain that theme in pictures with respect to its scale, grandeur and authenticity.”
He refuses to divulge his fee, but according to a 2013 Reuters story, Tilokani charges a minimum of Rs 3 lakh for a day.
Real to reel
But a photograph can only say a thousand words. For the rest, there are films. And we don’t mean the several-hours-long, yawn-inducing videos of people entering, greeting, eating and leaving. Wedding films are now as good as feature films, shot with the best cameras by the best cinematographers, with great production values that capture not just the laughter, tears and anxiety of a wedding but also the entire journey of the two people. Among the best known makers of such films is The Wedding Filmer.
Started four years ago by film director and producer Vishal Punjabi, who had worked with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment before, the company was born out of his own wedding. “Back then there was no concept of keeping your memories in a way that gave them some respect. And that is what we wanted from our own wedding,” says Zara Chowdhary, Punjabi’s better half and producer at The Wedding Filmer.
"We didn’t have any professional videographers to shoot for us. What we had were a lot of friends who happened to be talented cinematographers from the film industry. They started to film and take pictures, and what we ended up with was a four-minute film that Vishal put together."
Since then, The Wedding Filmer has made gorgeous, award-winning short wedding films for the rich, the famous and even those who have heart-warming stories to tell and just enough money to afford them (which is about Rs 5 lakh for a day and can go up to Rs 30 lakh or "much much more").
"We get an average of 1,500 requests a month, but we end up doing only 10-15 films a year. It’s not an assembly line; each film is a very emotionally exhausting process for us," Chowdhary says.
"Weddings in India are changing. When people are spending that kind of money to make it special, they also want to capture it the right way. Because when all your money and effort is spent in the three or four days of celebrations, at the end of the day, all you’re left with is memories."
With inputs from Aastha Atray Banan
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From HT Brunch, November 16
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