‘More gold’: What it’s really like to be a wedding planner in Delhi
How accurate is the popular web series, Made in Heaven? Well, over-the-top is the flavour of every season, say planners, and you do have to be a counsellor, confidante, fire-fighter and guide.
In the eighth episode of the Amazon Prime series, Made in Heaven, a bride demands that a music video be made starring her. “Let’s do something fun, na,” she says. Even to her wedding planners, the protagonists Tara (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan (Arjun Mathur), this is outlandish. But such is the nature of high-profile weddings in India.
The big fat Indian wedding has only gotten bigger and fatter, with no request, no impulse now considered as odd as it might have been a few years ago. Made in Heaven carefully deconstructs this culture of excess and grandeur that has become the new normal for a layer of society that seeks new boundaries to push.
Naturally then, planning weddings has become as challenging a business as it is lucrative.
Delhi is known for its crazy wedding culture, an aspect explored in the Prime series. “In the last three or four years, every other kid with a laptop has started to think he can plan a wedding. But the truth is that for really high-profile weddings, the client still only trusts three or four vendors in Delhi-NCR,” says Rituraj Khanna, CEO of Q Events, one of the region’s oldest planning firms. Khanna oversees 30 to 35 destination weddings a year. “Most of our clients are well-travelled youngsters or NRIs. They want their wedding to have a little tradition but a lot of the Western influence.”
Khanna employs about 300 unskilled workers supervised a core team of about 20, who lead design, technology etc. “It takes us about six months to plan and execute a wedding. And no matter how old you are in the business, you are always nervous till the last moment,” says Khanna, who has been doing this for 13 years.
In Made in Heaven, both Tara and Karan get up-close and personal with their clients, advising them, morally critiquing them and at times even manipulating them. Where Khanna says “a lot” of that pre-wedding drama is exaggerated or sensationalised, Ankiit Malhotra of Comme Sogno Vero (Italian for Dream Come True) says he agrees with series’ portrayal.
“I have planned a lot of weddings where I am in some way or the other related or known to the people. Then, I am often the person who talks to the bride or groom on behalf of the elders. So it happens. It happens a lot,” Malhotra says. “I had to once coax a bride when a marriage was about to be cancelled two days before the ceremony. It was just ego between the two sides.”
Of the many aspects of planning shown in the series, both Khanna and Malhotra agree, the logistics, the near-chaos of last-minute arrangements, is largely missing. “I would never have the time to stand around and take it all in. We are constantly running around, checking on things,” Khanna says.
Malhotra adds that another major factor not shown is the general interference of people in plans. “The biggest problem is that every relative comes up with a suggestion. Handling such situations, while you are literally consumed by chaos, is the most frustrating part. No matter how high-profile the wedding, the general influence of everyone with an opinion has not changed,” he says.
Of the unremarkable tasks, the thing that almost always go wrong, Khanna says, is transport. “I have been at a wedding where I dyed napkins at the last moment, because my table covers had not arrived on time. I have run around cities, at the last moment, looking for some particular fabric that never arrived. Transport is almost always the biggest challenge.”
Made in Heaven is of course dramatised, but the level of detail in the design and the pitches, both believe is close to accurate. “The gift of the gab is now as big as anything in this industry. You can have the best designers, the biggest team, the ideal resources, but if you cannot sell your idea, or communicate with people what you are thinking or imagining for their big day, you are as good as finished,” Khanna says.
Malhotra, whose firm handled the Shahid Kapoor-Mira Rajput wedding, points to the flipside of getting the big-name gigs. “Once you’ve done a name like Shahid, a lot of middle-class clients won’t even approach you, because they think you’re too big for them. That is a sort of problem as well,” he says.
At any rate the show’s professionalism is a nod to a business that is increasingly becoming more organised and more sophisticated. This month alone, Khanna has been part of two wedding conventions. The next is one he is curating in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. “Over the last three years the industry has become more streamlined, more serious if you like. At these conventions, there are planners from all over the world. We share ideas, trends and everything else, like it were art. Which planning is really,” he says.
There are now wedding-planner awards, and websites like WedMeGood.com that list, rate and review firms. The financials remain opaque. Khanna won’t share details, the company’s brochure doesn’t quote prices either. Malhotra roughly defines the range of a high-profile wedding anywhere between ₹1 crore and ₹10 crore.
“Everyone’s demand to us is that they want something different. That is the challenge. They just want different, be it the décor, the location, the lighting,” says Khanna. “We handled a wedding where we used 100 projectors to do a mapping of the venue. For one ceremony we created a stage out of ice, because the client wanted that experience of snow.”
Is there anything else to this glitter than the sense of vanity? “It depends on the family at times. I have a handled a lot of high-profile weddings where the display doesn’t matter to the couple, all they want is grace and class. There are those as well, but, yes, most of it is pretty vain,” Malhotra says. Khanna adds, “It is an exhibit. Nothing surprises us anymore. There are weddings that are much smaller that are more endearing and likeable. But the big ones are mostly show-offs.”