A wedding with a barbecue in place of a havan; a ceremony that the groom’s family refused to attend; a sulky man who wanted to be carried to his mandap. Life is full of surprises when you’re a wedding photographer.
Some photogs end up standing in for a key relative in a key ritual, as Mumbai’s Pooja Naik had to do when the bride’s sister could not wake up in time for it. Others have had to convince panicky brides- or grooms-to-be that, no, moving from Delhi to Ludhiana will not be the end of their social life; or yes, they can walk into the mandap without a horse and chariot without looking like a loser.
“By the day of the wedding, we’ve usually spent months with the couple and at least one side of the family, and at least two weeks in the household every day, so we get to know the relative really well and they begin to treat us like family,” says Delhi-based Mansi Mehta of the concept videography company, Memoreels.
This can have its upsides and its downsides. Overenthusiastic mama-mamis (yes, aunty and uncle, you know who you are) will want to do ‘side-shoots’ of their own, because “you know, beta, ours is a classic love story told through the ages”. Young cousins will corner you during a ceremony to say, “Can you just show me, you know, how to take great photographs -- just a few minutes; I am very good with tech.”
And then there are the upsides. The times when you get to be the hero and save the day. Or just help soothe ruffled nerves with some comfort food sneaked in on the sly.
“I once ran out and got the groom a chicken shawarma after an all-vegetarian reception,” says Mehta, “and I have never seen anyone devour a roll that quick.”
“I’ve rushed to pick up the bride’s reception gown from the laundry hours before the ceremony because her brother had brought home the wrong one,” adds Madhura Lingayat, of Little Big Weddings.
There are harried days and long, long nights when the sound of the shehnai can make you want to scream. And then there are the golden moments, when you see, as Payal Kumar from Mumbai put it, that love really does win in the end.
“I was shooting this lovely wedding for a couple named Suruchi and Sandeep three years back, but all along, his parents had refused to participate in or even attend their inter-caste wedding,” Kumar remembers. When the boy realised his parents and relatives really weren’t going to show, he was heartbroken.
“Suruchi’s family decided to not let him go through it all alone, so they divided themselves into ladkewale and ladkiwale,” says Kumar. “Some of her cousins organised the baraat and danced all the way with him and the bride’s uncle and aunty performed the haldi chadavne for Sandeep. And in a happy surprise, friends of Sandeep’s family turned up to bless him, risking their friendship with the family, so he really wasn’t alone.”
All through, the family hoped that Sandeep’s parents would make a surprise entry at some point, and they didn’t. “But the support he received from everyone else was overwhelming,” Kumar says. “It was a wedding that made me realise the true power of love.”
An open invitation
Pushpendra Gautam, a wedding photographer from Delhi, says his favourite memory of a wedding he has ever been a part of was in Bikaner, last year, where the family decided to make it a free-for-all affair. While the wedding rituals were attended by just the immediate family and close friends, the reception which was held at a resort, was open to anybody and everybody. “Almost 3,000 people from all strata of society had gathered at the venue and lined up to bless the couple. I noticed how a few locals were a little hesitant about entering the beautifully decorated venue when they saw the guards, but they were greeted with a warm smile. For many it was clearly the first time they had stepped into such a grand building and were awestruck by the magnificence of it all.” he says.
A shoulder to cry on
“I was in the middle of a shoot minutes before the mahurat a few months ago in Bangalore when the bride broke down because she developed cold feet,” says Rohith Sarcar, a photographer from Bangalore. “I was the only person there, so when I overcame the initial shock, I realised it was up to me to reassure her and help her regain confidence in her decision. A month later, I knew it had all worked out because she confided in her new husband — and the groom called me to thank me for helping his wife become his wife.”
Morvi Kumarifrom Delhi had a similar experience on the job, last year. “I had to sneak the groom into the bride’s room the evening before one of the main ceremonies because she had started to hyperventilate, saying she was a Delhi girl and was worried about how she would adjust into the boy’s family home in Ludhiana,” Kumari says. “Nothing I said would calm her down, so eventually I smuggled the groom in and the fact that he was there reassuring her about their future decisions together seemed to melt all her apprehensions away. Later on he wrote me a long text thanking me for helping out.”
Taming the bride/groom-zillas
And then there are the cases that are flat-out bizarre.
A year ago, wedding photographer Santosh Mhatre had to deal with a Mumbai groom, who, at the last moment, refused to walk to the mandap. “He kept insisting that he be carried, because he wanted a grand entry. With hardly 15 minutes to go, we were all at our wits’ end. Finally, after a long, frustrating and absurd discussion, we convinced him to put on his shoes and walk,” Mhatre says.
On a similar note, Mehta recalls an incident in Goa, three years ago, where the bride insisted on making a grand entry on horseback. “We loved the fact that she was gutsy and wanted to do something different — but we realised that it would interrupt the rituals. She still wanted to go ahead with the plan and enter on a ghodi just for the pictures, but we had to talk her out of it saying it was not worth the effort. ”
Keep calm and carry on
Wedding photographers say there is no such thing as a perfect wedding. Everyone can get along; you can be on track with planning at every stage, and something will still go wrong.
The only thing to do is keep calm and find a way to keep things moving. Delhi photographer Aditya Mendiratta was shooting a wedding in Uttarakhand, for instance, where it turned out that — of all things — the havankund (that central element where the fire is lit and the offerings made during the wedding ceremony) was missing.
“The bride’s family had thought the groom was in charge and the groom’s family was quite sure the ladkiwale had said they were handling it. Anyway, there was no havakund and time was running out and there had to be a fire on the floor soon, so, since it was almost impossible to source one at 2 am, both sides agreed to carry out the rituals in a barbeque!” Mendiratta says.
The whole thing can get overwhelming, adds Lingayat, of Little Big Weddings. “Apart from all the funny stories we get to take back with us, it is also an emotional rollercoaster. We laugh with the families, dance with them and cry with the brides during bidaai. I never really wanted to get married and love always came with an expiry date for me. But I have seen so many couples making promises, fighting and making up, or just looking at each other with so much love, it has changed something somewhere and I’ve become a romantic too!”