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The Changing Face of the Great Indian Shaadi

Marriages are made in heaven, but the new Indian weddings are customised and tailor-made to suit the discerning Indian who wants nothing less than a wedding extraordinaire. LuxuryFacts meets the faces behind this great production and its new stars, the brides (and their grooms)…so eat your heart out Kate Middleton!

If there is an equalizer which allows every woman to take a leap of fancy, irrespective of the size of her bank balance, and turn into a princess for a day, where everything is perfect, right from the weather to the placement of the silverware – it would be her wedding. Maybe we ought to blame those saccharine Disney classics and Bollywood movies which introduced us to the protagonist panting in sheer anticipation for her man to arrive and usher her into the chapel of love.

Indian luxury wedding setupPopular culture borrows from real life most of the time, and our society’s fixation with getting married – Mittal Style, Religion, Traditions, Family add on to the Band Baaja Baraat of the BIG Fat Indian Wedding. Historically, matrimonies for South Asians have been one complicated affair unless couples opt for the quick court marriage (but Cinderella wouldn’t be as charming had she married in a courtroom, no?). Out goes the couple and in comes the family with the wedding planners managing everything and anything essential to make a statement. This holds true across economic and social strata – it’s all about the face and the name. What will people think? They must feel honoured and better feel privileged to be invited to the biggest gig in the household of both the bride and the groom.

Ritu Mehta, an advertising professional working in Delhi, recalls how her mother almost fainted with ‘Wedding Anxiety’ on hearing her decision to marry a family friend’s son – Raghu. It is understandable because her daughter may be great at churning out campaigns for her clients at neck-break speed, but for her own wedding, she had no planning whatsoever – a major problem for someone who wants a traditional wedding in three weeks’ time! Her mother and a gang of friends did what is the most logical thing to do – they simply called a famous Delhi five-star and left all planning in the hotel’s hands. The family was required to share their tastes, wants and demands with the banquet manager, but Ritu had one peculiar request as well. She wanted a Vegas themed after-party following the reception. As quirky as it might sound, and insanely unrealistic, the planners did whatever they could to get slot machines, poker tables, a couple of Russian show girls and even a mini-chapel starring a frail Elvis impersonating minister for couples who decide to renew their own wedding wows. “Themes are very important to the new Indians. Be it Arabian Nights or Bollywood Masala, the sangeets or other parties now most certainly have them. Thankfully people are trying to remove the seriousness out of weddings finally – no matter how horrid the themes maybe,” says Ranjit Sethna who runs a Bangalore-based event company. “It is about having the prefect ending to new beginnings,” he adds.

“That’s the fun part of weddings when you are not the one getting married,” exclaims Nisha Shankar who had, in her own words, “no choice” but to rely on her family, who tried to put together a wedding “Debacle of the century”. There were a series of unfortunate events on the run-up to the final day, but thankfully for the Shankar family, things just fell into place at the last moment. “I could marry once again only to hire some professionals to manage my Big Day…who knows maybe we might just,” she confesses.

The last wedding I attended, I remember not eating anything after looking at the enormity of the menu. Thai, Malay, Chinese, Italian, Indian adding up to a total of 12 odd cuisines for the army of guests. “This is your world-travelled Indian, who earlier equated food with great quality ingredients and their freshness, but now looks at decadent variety,” explains Ivan D’mello, a sous chef at a famous Mumbai restaurant. “People want to display their sophistication and fine taste, and perhaps getting international cuisines allows them to do so. But that is really very 90s or new money,” he articulates. “What is in, is contemporary twists on Indian cuisines – having star chefs whip-up a multi-course meal, black bowtie sporting butler service and designer silverware and china.”

He goes on to explain how his last client insisted that at her daughter’s wedding, the guests should be served in nothing less than Rosenthal. If she had her way, she would have insisted on a Michelin star chef as well! With increased exposure, it is true the culinary palette is growing, and the degree of finesse is rising. The Indian who insisted on quality and freshness of ingredients still does so. But now the produce is flown in from world over and prepared by the most celebrated chefs before they are served to the guests.

“We just finished catering the desert courses at a HNI wedding in Rajasthan which had who’s-who on the guest list. All delicacies were shock frozen and flown to the venue from the kitchen in Belgium,” shared Hans Pauwels of Debailleul to LuxuryFacts when we met him at the launch of his pâtisserie in Mumbai. And when food is fit for the king, how can liquor be left behind? At one of the luxury lectures conducted by Moet Chandon’s Gaurav Bhatia, he surprised the audience with how Gujarat makes it to one of the biggest clients for the brand, asking for nothing but the most ‘Saaru’ champagne and spirits available. And while they are at it – put them in customized Louis Vuitton. These big spenders might not be able to pronounce the name of the brands they indulge in, but they mean serious business and have learnt to appreciate luxury in the most unconventional ways.

Marigold, mogras and fat Indian roses. What would weddings be without them? The answer circa 2011 is – “There won’t be no wedding,” says Nicolette Shah who specializes in making the most exquisite flower arrangements for everything wedding, be it the dining tables, the stage on which the couple greet guests or the garland for the couple. “Indian flowers don’t look that charming anymore to the trained eye. We have clients asking for wild African lilies, tulips and camellias.” Most of the times it is easy to source these flowers from her suppliers, the florist assures. The problems, however, begin when clients demand flowers which are not in season. We suggest that she could try slipping in fake ones here and there. Who will notice after all? “Over my dead body!” responds a very outraged Shah.

Luxury wedding table decorA cousin of my best friend was invited to an acquaintance’s wedding in Ludhiana last year. He and the 300 guests returned home with their own Hyndai Santros. Move over Oprah, Indians are giving away cars at weddings as return gifts. For someone who appreciates getting thoughtful gifts, Pallavi Sharma wanted to make sure each and every attendee at her daughter’s wedding would get something to remember the special day by. She simply went out to Tiffany & Co. and ordered white gold pendants and key holders engraved with the guests’ names and wrapped in the delicious robin-blue boxes as a thank you gift. I often wonder why no one invites me for such weddings?

The guests at weddings may be advised to come with only their blessings, but honestly who is ever serious about that. There is always a pesky cousin or an aunt who will collect all the gifts, transfer them to the home and then draw up a list of who gave what – this list is more important than Moses’ 10 Commandments for the family, casting in stone the future of the relationship the family shares with the gift giver. “Gone are the days of handing over envelopes with X amount and one rupee or some useless showpiece in ceramic or glass which the family will never use anyways unless they have bad taste,” says Shenaaz Hamid, a gifting consultant and event planner. “People who give sloppy gifts can be sure of being forever removed from future events of everyone in that social circle,” advices this ‘Crusader of good gifting’. Gifting is a fine art which is acquired over a period of time or never at all. Take the event you have to go for, multiply it with the scale of it, add to it your relationship with the party getting married, and adjust the amount with your age, social status and accounted earnings. The figure which appears will be enough to get the right gift. But don’t be mistaken about ‘selecting’ the right gift even then. Gifters can go horribly wrong with what they chose from whom. “It is only a matter of time before we move on the wedding registry system – that should make me go out of business for sure, but at least people will get the gifts they want,” signs off Shenaaz.

Karan Mehta, a Mumbai based investment banker is one harassed man, torn between deciding the colour and textures of table cloth at his wedding while managing a full-time job which pays him to organize this magnum opus of a wedding to his childhood sweetheart. “Weddings are more about the dress and the menu than the marriage,” he mutters, although he is aware that if his to-be wife reads this comment in print, it might be a tough day for him. But considering his manic life at the moment, it is something he admits he can manage – after all it is six more months to the wedding day!