21st December, 2012 was the date that the world was supposed to end, according to the Mayans. There was even a movie on it. We were either going to collide with a mythical planet called Nibiru, or be sucked into a supermassive black hole that was located at the centre of the galaxy. Clearly, nothing happened, and we went back to our lives. But doomsday is upon us now. No no, not because of the coronavirus that has killed lakhs of people worldwide and demolished an already staggering global economy. The doomsday is upon us, folks, because for, perhaps, the first time since a husband and wife partook in the saat pheras, the recession-proof Indian wedding industry has taken a hit. And it’s a big one.

According to Vikram Mehta, the founder of Mpire Events, a luxury wedding planning company, “Revenue is down from 100 to nil, and the scale for future weddings have been scaled down to 1 percent or 2 percent of the original budgets.” This means that a wedding that would usually cost two crore rupees, now has a budget of two lakhs. While Srishti Kapur of Floral Art hasn’t been as badly aŸected as Mehta, she states that there has been a 99 per cent reduction in business, not to mention the monthly outflow of financial resources towards artisans on the payroll. But while wedding planners and event managers have been left in the lurch, COVID-19 is not stopping the Indian wedding from taking place. Sure, the bride can’t flaunt her Manish Malhotra lehenga amidst the columns of a Jaipur palace, but her relatives, who’ve logged in on Zoom from all around the world, are getting a pretty good look at it.

Mumbai-based Akshay Sirsalewala sounds positively giddy when he talks about the money he’s saved. “We had booked The Lalit and The Westin, and both are five-star properties. For our wedding, we would have called over 800 people and for our sangeet, we would have called nearly 500 people. Just to give you a ballpark figure, I think we would have spent around Rs 25 to 30 lakh for each event. For our lockdown wedding, where we made food at home, there were literally no expense. I think we did it in less than Rs 20 to 30,000. Even if we add the photographer’s fees, the amount will still not extend Rs 1 lakh,” he said.

Originally, Sirsalewala’s wedding was scheduled for May 1 this year. The hotel properties had been booked, and the invites had been sent out. Despite the pandemic, two things primarily convinced the groom to go ahead with the wedding during the nationwide lockdown — his grandparents’ concern regarding the mahurat date, and the promise from his sisters that they could make his wedding stand out even with 20 people in attendance. For his wedding on May 18, the family had to get an NOC from the society, and permission from the police. While there were 22 people present physically, around 250 people witnessed the four-hour long wedding ceremony via Zoom, WhatsApp video call, and FaceTime.

“Not only did they attend my wedding virtually, they were also very well dressed. There was make-up and jewellery and everything. One of my relatives threw rose petals on her computer screen during our pheras, and sent me a picture. I was sceptical about a virtual wedding initially, but I loved my wedding. We saved a lot of money, which we can use for better purposes. We could hear comments constantly from the Zoom video call and we had a mini Sangeet as well, where people recorded their videos and sent it to us,” he adds. Shreya Shaparia and Dhrumill Shah met for the first time on May 16, 2019. They got engaged in January this year, they decided to get married on May 10 to commemorate the month that had brought them together. However, when news of the pandemic spread, they sent out ‘unsave the date’ messages, and decided to postpone their wedding to the latter half of the year. But by mid-May, they realised that things weren’t going to change anytime soon — the infamous ‘new normal’ had set in. Hence, Shaparia and Shah decided to get married on May 28, as it was an auspicious day. “We used Zoom, and placed the camera in an angle where all our relatives, friends and well-wishers could be a part of this beautiful day. It was overwhelming and emotional, as they weren’t present physically, and I was bursting into tears a bit. Our friends and family were all dressed up, some sent us photos standing next to the screen for our wedding reception album, and some were seen dancing on the screen at the sangeet night,” she says.

“We had the pandit physically present, and we only had our friends, relatives, and well-wishers join us through Zoom,” she adds. Photographer Monisha Ajgaonkar shot the Shaparia-Shah wedding. Having shot multiple weddings, this was a completely different experience for her. “From shooting with the guest lists of around 500-1,000 people, it’s reduced to 15-20, where only the first family is involved while the others enjoy and give blessings virtually. From carrying just equipment, we have started to carry sanitisers, sanitisers for the equipment, and even our own bottles of water. Our team size reduced from 12 to two — one photographer one, videographer,” she says. “Since a lot of guests will not be invited, interesting trends like video challenges, Zoom ceremonies, virtual tributes and toasts, even virtual sangeets are going to be the new way of celebration. More intimate experiences that’ll be cherished, less stress, and feeling of being overwhelmed where the truest of emotions will be displayed,” Ajgaonkar says about the immediate future of wedding photography.

Jaipur-based Tulika Singh’s fiancé had come down from Coimbatore to Jodhpur for the wedding preparations and got stuck there due to the lockdown. “It was a total ghar wali wedding,” she says, “we got an event manager who could manage a mandap in our home, and had all our functions at home. We maintained social distancing, and my husband’s uncle works at a law firm, so he managed the permissions and knew what steps had to be taken. We wanted a lot of people to attend our wedding but now, we had to choose whom to call. We did not call a professional photographer because then we’d have to cut our guest list even shorter. Most of the family members were on video call, on Zoom, on WhatsApp.

Calling a member from each family was very diffcult for us, so we managed it in a way where we gave every group a different time to arrive at our place,” she says. Were the coronavirus to magically disappear, Singh would have invited over 150 guests and spent around Rs 10 lakhs to 15 lakhs. But her lockdown wedding cost approximately a lakh. The big, fat Indian wedding is a little smaller and a lot thinner, but the effort that goes into it hasn’t been affected by the global pandemic. The love is still there, and so are the laddoos. The rose petals are still being showered — except this time around, the hands that throw them at the couple aren’t adorned with mehendi, but encased in gloves. The smell of butter chicken and vodka is mixed with the clinical odour of hand sanitiser, but you’ll still hear the phrase “agli baari tumhari hai” being thrown around liberally.

(Photo credits: Monisha Ajgaonkar, Snapped Studio)