The lavish ‘shaadis’ that mark the winter months in India have now become just as visible within the diaspora in Canada, particularly in the metro Vancouver area of British Columbia province, and the phenomenon is the subject of a new documentary Little India, Big Business.
The documentary’s director, first-time filmmaker and Vancouver native Bal Brach, has a very personal connect to the trend. As she was engaged to Shiv Deol in 2013, she started researching the subject of weddings. At that time, she thought she would have a “big, fat Indian wedding” because “there was no option”. And in that area, that seemed true enough.
In recent years, the base price for a ‘desi’ wedding, she discovered, is Canadian $100,000, as against a ceiling of about $40,000 for a mainstream marriage.
“There is a lot of new money and it is ego driven,” Brach, a journalist who worked with Canada’s national broadcaster CBC, said. In attempting to keep up with their neighbours, some parents take out second mortgages or cash in their retirement funds. “Life savings are being spent,” she said.
The groom arriving on a horse isn’t enough for some - one couple wanted to land at the venue in a helicopter but was denied a permit. Another, though, got to the Vancouver Convention Center in a chopper.
In this attempt to outdo others in the extravaganza stakes, weddings are being held in locations such as the Rocky Mountaineer Station in Vancouver as banquet halls are just not adequate to make a statement. Brach said she found weddings featuring 10 varieties of appetisers and 25 types of desserts. Gifts to the young couple include the ubiquitous gold jewellery, homes and luxury cars such as a Lamborghini.
The industry around wedding planning for this niche segment has exploded.
Couturier Dave Singh, for instance, known as “Sabhyasachi of Surrey” after the Indian fashion designer and the Vancouver suburb, went from 12 clients in 2008 to dressing nearly 400 brides last year.
Conversely, Brach said, as young couples spent more time arranging their weddings than planning for a married life, divorce rates have increased. “They (the parents) regretted it. They didn’t want to splurge all this money for nothing,” Brach said.
She pointed out that her parents, who hail from Punjab, had a simple ceremony and their marriage is still going strong decades later.
Meanwhile, sometimes Canadian locales aren’t showy enough for some, as destination weddings in places such as Cancun, Mexico or Jamaica are becoming popular. Brach got married in December 2014 in the Caribbean nation, though the expense was limited to $50,000 and it became more of a weeklong family vacation.
Brach’s film premiered on CBC earlier this year and is featuring on the festival circuit. Fittingly, given the season in New Delhi, it will have its Indian opening at the Delhi International Film Festival on Tuesday.
Watch | Trailer for Little India, Big Business