The women’s wear market in India is estimated to be worth around Rs 1,11,467 crore. According to a report in The Economic Times, the Indian film industry grosses around Rs 13,800 crore, and a report by BnBNation estimates that this figure could hit Rs 26,000 crore by 2020. The Indian wedding industry, in comparison, is estimated to be worth over Rs 3,00,000 crore (a KPMG report from 2017 puts it at $40-50 billion) and is growing exponentially at a rate of 25 per cent to 30 per cent on a yearly basis. While figures vary, an average Indian wedding can cost anywhere between Rs 5 lakh to over a crore.
Much has been written about the big, fat Indian wedding. While they vary regionally and as per the specific religious customs of the bride and groom, a typical desi wedding can last for around 10 days. According to a 2012 report in CBS News, India celebrates about 10 million weddings a year, and one can be sure that that number has gone up exponentially in the past seven years. However, while the underlying customs and rituals remain the same, the weddings being held in recent times are a far cry from the ones that were held before the advent of social media. In this age of hashtags and Instagram, the already big and fat Indian wedding has evolved into one that thrives on excess – and that’s saying something.
We are, after all, a visual race, and as any psychologist will tell you, it’s all about perception. The weddings being held today are elaborate affairs designed and curated by wedding planners. What was once an intimate decision made by the elders of the family, who turned to their bevy of relatives and friends for catering and the like, has transformed into a glamorous carnival – and this carnival is visualised, directed and documented by the wedding photographer, an individual whose worth seems to have exponentially gone up. Gone are the days when your third cousin, with his trusty VHS camera, would shoot unflattering photographs of guests stuffing their faces with food prepared by the local caterer (who also happened to be your uncle on the mother’s side).
Weddings these days have drones shooting images from the sky, a celebrity guest, a buffet that serves every kind of cuisine you can imagine and wedding invites that are full-blown trailers, with snippets promising what a blast the ‘film’ will be. “Weddings in India are no longer just a personal affair. In the past, they were completed within a maximum of 2 days, with close friends and family, but now, weddings are more akin to a social media campaign, complete with innovative hashtags. Furthermore, lavish celebrity weddings, like #Deepveer and #Virushka, are a big influence on the way ordinary people plan and organise their own receptions. They set a benchmark for young couples, and these events often last anywhere between one week and ten days,” says Mazhar Nadiadwala, managing director, Dome Entertainment Pvt Ltd. Dome @ NSCI, in Mumbai’s Worli area, is one of the most sought-after venues in the country. It has been the location choice for major events like the BMW i8 launch, Disney’s Beauty And The Beast muscial and yes, even personal occasions like weddings.
The kitsch isn’t the only thing that sets the wedding industry in India apart from every other industry – according to insiders, it is also considered to be “recession-proof”. In an article in Franchise India, Aashni Shah, creative director of boutique wedding designer Aashni & Co, stated that “more than 10 million weddings take place in India each year, which is why it is called a “recession-proof” business.”
The numbers support that. According to The Big Fat Indian Wedding Market Survey 2018, carried out by the match-making portal Matrimony.com, 20.6 per cent of the women surveyed stated that they would be okay with spending Rs 10 lakh to Rs 20 lakh, with those north of the country showing a propensity to spend more (18.6 per cent over 12 per cent in the south, 11.1 per cent in the west and 10.9 per cent in the east).
“As a market leader, we wanted to understand how today’s younger generation looks at a wedding. We were not surprised that for Indians, a wedding is still the biggest event in their lives, and that they’re ready to spend their life savings to make it the most memorable lifetime event. The insights prove that the rich Indian wedding tradition continues to flourish, with the biggest gathering of family, relatives and friends,” said Murugavel Janakiraman, founder and CEO Matrimony.com, according to ANI.
The “rich Indian wedding tradition” that Janakiraman speaks of has continued to flourish amongst the youth, in the age of social media. Like with every major life event in the 21st century, there is a prevailing belief that it must be documented on apps like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. One of the most interesting additions that these applications have provided is the “wedding hashtag”. These hashtags are usually a play on the names of the individuals getting married, but it can be something else altogether. Take for instance the #EverydayPhenomenal used for the much-tweeted and ‘trending’ Sonam Kapoor and Anand Ahuja wedding (the wedding, of course, had its own hashtag on Twitter – #SonamKiShaadi).
This brings us to the front seat view we enjoy for our favourite celebrity weddings, courtesy the paparazzi and an enamoured media. The first major wedding event of last year was the Kapoor-Ahuja union, and the actress has always been extremely social mediafriendly. The photos, likes and retweets fed this media frenzy, and thanks to social media, we also got to witness an allegedly inebriated Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor. It was a delight to see stars act just like your favourite uncle would at your wedding. It humanised them, but what it also did was to set unrealistic expectations – the desire to have a Bollywood-esque wedding was strong, among the consumers of all this social media data.
“In recent times, while interacting with couples (and their families), there are many instances where a reference to a celebrity wedding is made, how such a celebrity wore this and I shall wear the same. Not just outfits, but the desire to recreate goes on to almost every level – right from the food that would be served to the decor that was done,” says photographer Supraket Meshram, who just got married himself and states that “as a first-hand experience, social media is definitely influencing the grander event”. Any conversation about weddings and celebrities is also incomplete without a reference being made to Joseph Radhik. To put a twist to the famous Jane Austen line, it is a truth universally acknowledged that an Indian bride-to-be has two dreams – to be dressed by Sabyasachi and photographed by Radhik. To those in the know, he is probably India’s most celebrated wedding photographer (remember the #Virushka wedding photos? All Radhik). Recently, Radhik also shot for the globally covered #Nickyanka wedding, and the one that had Beyoncé performing at the sangeet – the Ambani-Piramal wedding.
Besides the high-tech and high-end photography, another thing that’s changed about the wedding industry in the country is that it has become far more organised – but that was waiting to happen, considering the money being poured into it these days. Last year, Ferns N Petals (FNP), one of the largest wedding planning companies in India, announced a collaboration with KWAN, which handles some of India’s biggest celebrities, like Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor. According to a report in CNBC TV18 by Deepali Nandwani, the two major players will leverage their respective strengths, in the sense that while FNP will take care of the logistics, KWAN will get the stars.
This collaboration is a sign of changing tides in the way we look at desi weddings these days. Need further proof? Get this – in the same report, Nandwani mentions how Japanese consumer electronics giant Panasonic has begun to offer projection mapping technology for weddings, with a combined budget of Rs 6 crore. Projection mapping is based along the lines of spatial augmented reality, where projection technology is used to project objects (in this case, perhaps a palace where the wedding is being held) on to a surface. It’s no longer something you see in an Avengers movie – your grand aunt from the back end of nowhere can use it to decide whether all the 1,500 guests invited will be seated comfortably. “In major cities alone, some 1,000 such high-end wedding ceremonies are held per year, accounting for around 20 per cent of the marriage service market,” said Shigeki Sumitani, head of Panasonic India’s media entertainment business group.
Parthip Thyagrajan, CEO of Wedding Sutra, says that 3D-printed decorations, custom Snapchat filters, wedding apps, 3D projection mapping for the dance floor decor and drones are just a few of the new-age technologies he’s noticed being incorporated into weddings these days. He also speaks about a GoPro being hidden in the bride and groom’s ensembles, for a unique view of the ceremonies.
“The 3-hour wedding films have taken a shift to five minutes and sometimes, even a minute. Every couple out there prefers candid pictures over portrait shoots and barely any couple misses out on pre-wedding and pre-honeymoon photoshoots abroad. With our experience, we believe that honeymoon photoshoots are soon to be a trend-setter for every couple out there. Over the years, the drastic change has been to send the content immediately to the client during the wedding functions. It has truly been a challenging task to work on the same-day edit,” says Megha Israni, Founder of Israni photography and Signature films.
All the people interviewed for this piece agreed on one aspect in particular – the rise in demand for wedding photographers. “Part of the objective of most weddings these days is shooting the right picture for social media. The destination/venue itself is usually selected keeping in mind photographic opportunities, lighting and aesthetics. In the past, most weddings had a single photographer for all functions, but now, there are whole squads of photographers and videographers employed to capture intimate moments between the couple, their friends and family. Many events feature a special photo booth, with different props for the celebrants and their guests to have their pictures taken,” says Nadiadwala.
“Drones are definitely mandatory for any outdoor and destination wedding, as every client wants aerial shots for their videos and photographs. The past few years have also seen gimbals and cranes coming into the wedding industry, to provide cinematic videos for the big weddings,” says Sheldon D’Mello, a photographer from Mangaluru who has been shooting weddings for the past four years. The former IT professional also states that there are two types of weddings that he covers – ones that range from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 20 lakh and the bigger ones, which can go up to Rs 60 lakh. D’Mello typically charges around Rs 1 lakh for his services, which includes candid photography and videography.
Maninder Sethi, the founder of Wedding Asia, doesn’t really believe that celebrity weddings have brought about a desire to recreate opulence – after all, weddings are a personal affair, he says – but he does note that technology plays an integral role in weddings these days. “The use of drones, HD photos, lavish bride and groom entrances, GoPro camera usage, pre-wedding shots etc. add to the surreality of any wedding, and make it look bigger and better than it actually is, so that such moments can stay in the lives of everyone present forever,” he says.
While it is evident that by and large, the desi wedding is no longer the personal affair it used to be, there are still many who choose an equally expensive but intimate affair. “Our wedding photography was done by North Water Star. They had a huge team, and they did use a drone and a lot of high-end cameras and technology. In fact, I’ve noticed that even if someone is not spending a lot on their wedding, they might still shell out a lot for a good photographer,” says Bangalore-based UX Designer Sanchita Pathak, who added that she and her husband, software engineer Abhishek Chandra, weren’t keen on a pre-wedding shoot, but went ahead at the photographer’s behest.
“My wedding videographers asked us if we wanted a teaser video along with a longer video, and I realised that a teaser is actually just created so you can post it on Facebook or Instagram, and I told them it’ll be pointless for me. I’ve had friends ask me why we did a photo shoot with my wedding photographers if we weren’t even going to post it online. But for me, that just wasn’t the purpose,” she adds. While her wedding décor was handled by Ferns N Petals, the couple did not consult a wedding planner, and relied on inputs from their parents and grandparents.
“The point to be kept in mind, however, is that one should stay within their means and find more comfortable options, as opposed to something that might hurt them later. Priyanka and Nick Jonas, for instance, reportedly got paid $2.5 million by People magazine for exclusive rights to the wedding. They tied up with brands including Tiffany, Ralph Lauren, Lime Bikes and JBL, among others. These kinds of monetary avenues are things that a normal wedding will never see, so you should be wary of how you allocate your buck wisely,” says PR professional Rachna Baruah.
The big, fat Indian wedding has stayed true to Indian culture in the sense that it has managed to embrace the latest innovations, and given it a desi touch. It’s always been larger than life, and though the VHS camera has been replaced with drones, one can take pride in the fact that no matter how high-tech desi weddings get, there will always be a drunk relative doing the naagin dance somewhere on the dance floor.