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The big band evolution

delhi Updated: Dec 12, 2009 23:52 IST

I offer my clients about 50 dresses to choose from,” says Sanjay Sharma. With the great Indian wedding becoming grander by the day, band owners of the Capital have had no choice but to follow suit.

Sharma, the president of the Delhi State Band Association and owner of Master Band, says it is all about “looks” these days.

“Till the 1980s, a baarat (marriage procession) would have a band, horse and lights. Also, bagpipes, jhankars and the shehnai formed the core of the band,” said Hira Thadani (64), who owns Jea Band, which is one of the oldest in the Capital.

“Weddings have changed a lot over the years and the baarat has become an event in itself. People look for well-groomed and well-dressed bandsmen.”

So it isn’t just the bride and the groom who have now switched to various ‘bride and groom’ packages, bands such as Jea and Master, which has been around since 1951, also have had to reinvent themselves.

Lights, horses, chariots, umbrellas, vintage cars, lamp carriers, floral designs and even crackers form a part of their service. Aptly so, Thadani’s son Anil (37), who has taken over the family business, now calls himself a ‘marriage procession planner’.

“I have to often change music and dresses of the bandsmen according to the wedding theme or the client's taste. I also keep experimenting with the dresses (of the band members) and music. Today my band is like a mini event- management company.”

One would expect that with the changes that are sweeping the wedding business, the band owners must have been making money. The real picture is pretty grim.

The top brass bands charge anything between Rs 8,000 to Rs 20,000 per wedding, depending on the season. The Capital has more than 2,000 bands.

“But our business has gone down by 50 per cent in the last 5-6 years. Earlier, there were at least 45 mahurats (auspicious days) during the wedding season. But now there are hardly 20 days,” says Raj Kumar, owner of Shiv Mohan Band, which was set up in 1963.

The band owners blame it on the “pandits and astrologers” who, they claim, make sure there are only a few auspicious days for marriages during the wedding session, which lasts from October to February. No one gives a reason why.

Thadani also blames the growing traffic in Delhi for their loss. “Our one band used to perform at two weddings in one night but it is no longer possible,” he says.

“Our band can’t move from one part of the city to another because of heavy traffic in the evenings.”

His Jea Band, which was set up in 1936, has performed at some of the most talked-about weddings including that of cricketer Virender Sehwag and Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan’s wedding in Mumbai.

The band has also earned the distinction of performing at the Indian Premier League and has appeared in Saif Ali Khan-starrer Love Aaj Kal and Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding. But such a ‘pedigree’ has not helped it much.

“People are very demanding. They want us to play new hit numbers from films and albums. For that we need to practise regularly,” says Sharma.

Six years ago the government withdrew the permission to practice at an open space, adjoining Yamuna Bazar near the Red Fort.

“We need to practice regularly, but there is no space for us in the city. We have to practice in the fields on Delhi-UP border,” says Sharma.