The big story

From brides cov­ered in gold to grooms who are given helicopters and race­horses, there seems to be no such thing as a fru­gal In­dian wed­ding.

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

The guest list read like a ver­i­ta­ble who’s who of Bol­ly­wood. Pop­u­lar singers Sonu Nigam, Kailash Kher, Mika and Anu­radha Paud­wal were there, as was Hindi film­dom’s top chore­og­ra­pher Shia­mak Davar and his amaz­ing troupe of dancers. Among the ac­tors who graced the oc­ca­sion were Dia Mirza, Neha Dhu­pia and Anil Kapoor.

The event? No, not a pre­miere of the lat­est Bol­ly­wood block­buster but the wed­ding of top busi­ness­man Aakash Ja­ha­j­garhia, di­rec­tor of the Ja­ha­j­garhia Group that has global in­ter­ests in land de­vel­op­ment and hos­pi­tal­ity, and Vega Gupta, daugh­ter of Achla and Anil Gupta, who own among oth­ers, The New Age news­pa­per and Sa­hara Com­put­ers in South Africa, in May this year. The venue for their mar­riage? Sun City’s Palace of the Lost City, South Africa. The tab? An es­ti­mated $7.5 mil­lion (Dh27.5 mil­lion).

Even though the wed­ding was held on an­other con­ti­nent, it had all the trap­pings of a tra­di­tional In­dian wed­ding – and then some.

Around 200 wed­ding spe­cial­ists in­clud­ing dec­o­ra­tors, pho­tog­ra­phers, fash­ion stylists and their teams flew in from In­dia. Top chef Marut Sikka, who has cooked for for­mer US pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, for­mer Pak­istan Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf and In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh was drafted in to pre­pare an over­whelm­ing choice of strictly veg­e­tar­ian fare.

Event or­gan­is­ers Wizcraft who have mas­ter­minded shows such as the In­ter­na­tional In­dian Film Fes­ti­val and Global In­dian Mu­sic Awards, were the wed­ding plan­ners.

Al­though mired in some con­tro­versy – a pri­vate jet was said to have re­port­edly re­ceived diplo­matic cour­te­sies, al­legedly by­pass­ing cus­toms pro­ce­dures – the wed­ding was a hot topic in South Africa and In­dia.

When it comes to ex­trav­a­gant wed­dings In­di­ans are pretty much un­beat­able. Two years ago, Lon­don-based iron ore ty­coon Pramod Agar­wal gave away his daugh­ter Vi­neeta’s hand in mar­riage to Muqit Teja, a busi­ness­man who owns ayurvedic spas in Canada, in a wed­ding in the Ital­ian city of Venice. Guests flown in from across the world were greeted with del­i­ca­cies dished out by a Miche­lin-star chef, while global pop star Shakira en­ter­tained guests. The wed­ding is ru­moured to have cost around €20 mil­lion (Dh98 mil­lion).

Gone are the days when an In­dian groom and bride sim­ply ex­change gar­lands at a shrine or a mod­estly dec­o­rated com­mu­nity hall, af­ter which the 100-odd guests sit down to a mod­est three-course meal. Now the big­ger the cel­e­bra­tions – and the price tag – the bet­ter.

Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports the wed­ding in­dus­try in In­dia is es­ti­mated to be a phe­nom­e­nal $25.5 bil­lion and grow­ing at a mind-bog­gling rate of 20 to 25 per cent per year.

Wed­dings are glitzy, glamorous events where A-list Bol­ly­wood celebs are will­ing to make an ap­pear­ance for a price that could run into mil­lions of ru­pees. Cel­e­bra­tions can last for up to seven days at a five-star re­sort com­plete with song and dance pro­grammes by A-list artists.

Hop­ing to cash in on this trend are sev­eral coun­tries in­clud­ing Thai­land, which is fast be­com­ing a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for In­dian cou­ples to tie the knot, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Bloomberg re­port. The Tourism Au­thor­ity of Thai­land (TAT) has even pub­lished a book ti­tled Fall in Love in In­dia and Get Mar­ried in Thai­land.

Ac­cord­ing to TAT, the aver­age spend for an In­dian wed­ding in the pic­turesque coun­try is 10 mil­lion baht (about Dh1,248,854), with an aver­age of 200 to 500 guests. The aver­age du­ra­tion of each wed­ding is three to five nights, with about 600 rooms booked.

A deep-rooted pas­sion for gold

But the venue is not the only high­light of an In­dian wed­ding. It’s the gold and pre­cious stone jewellery that the bride wears that can run into mil­lions. “Around 70 per cent of the 800 tonnes of gold an­nu­ally im­ported into In­dia goes to the wed­ding mar­ket,’’ says Sham­lal Ah­mad, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Mal­abar Gold & Di­a­monds, one of the largest jewellers in In­dia and the UAE. “In­di­ans have a deep-rooted pas­sion for gold and it all comes to the fore dur­ing the wed­ding sea­son.’’

He re­calls a wed­ding his friend told him about in Andhra Pradesh, south­ern In­dia. “It was held ear­lier this year and the bride had more than eight kilo­grams of gold jewellery

‘Around 70 per cent of the 800 tonnes of gold an­nu­ally im­ported goes to the wed­ding mar­ket’

on her. At to­day’s price, the gold alone would have cost more than Dh12 mil­lion.’’

And that’s only for the jewellery. Ex­penses for the venue, food, song and dance shows, trans­port and ho­tel rooms for the guests run up a bill for just as much or even more.

Su­nitha Sal­danha, a free­lance events man­ager in Ben­galuru who has or­gan­ised sev­eral big mar­riages in south­ern In­dia, is not sur­prised. “Mar­riages that cost a few mil­lion ru­pees are quite com­mon,’’ says the 35-year-old. “While such mar­riages are the talk of the town, fam­i­lies pre­fer not to make a big song and dance about it, fear­ing the tax­man could make a bee­line to their homes.’’

In a coun­try that boasts a pop­u­la­tion of 1.2 bil­lion be­tween four to 10 mil­lion wed­dings

are held in In­dia ev­ery year, ac­cord­ing to in­de­pen­dent trend an­a­lysts. In fact, on what was be­lieved to have been an aus­pi­cious day in Novem­ber last year, an es­ti­mated 30,000 wed­dings were con­ducted in Delhi alone, which re­port­edly brought traf­fic in the city to a stand­still as the pomp and show in most of th­ese wed­dings spills out on to the roads.

If the aver­age bud­get for a mid­dle-class wed­ding in cities is around $34,000, it shoots to up­ward of $1 mil­lion for an aver­age up­per-class wed­ding, says Su­nitha. And that doesn’t in­clude cash and valu­ables the bride and groom re­ceive from the bride’s fam­ily.

Nishad Mo­han, an­other event man­ager in Ben­galuru, has or­gan­ised sev­eral high-pro­file wed­dings in In­dia. Nishad re­calls re­ports of the mar­riage of Yogita and Lalit Tan­war. “One lucky groom in north­ern In­dia got a five-seater he­li­copter from his fa­ther-in-law as a gift,” he says. “An­other was given a race­horse. Gifts of As­ton Martins and BMWs are passé. In­di­ans who have the money are happy to flaunt it.’’

He men­tions a wed­ding he helped to or­gan­ise in Ker­ala. “I can’t re­veal the fam­i­lies’ names,’’ he says. “But the bride was given gold jewellery weigh­ing close to four ki­los. In fact, she couldn’t wear much of the jewellery she was given be­cause it was so heavy, so she had to carry it in a small jewel chest. And so that the groom didn’t feel left out, his fa­ther-in-law pre­sented him with a five-bed­room villa that cost around Rs4 mil­lion.’’

A toast to one-up­man­ship

Ac­cord­ing to Sham­lal, “To­day, par­ents pre­fer giv­ing gold be­cause for the com­mon man, a kilo of gold is per­ceived to have more value than, say, a lux­ury car. They don’t think twice when splurg­ing on their chil­dren’s wed­dings be­cause in many parts of In­dia, a man’s sta­tus in so­ci­ety is of­ten judged by the amount of gold his daugh­ter wears on her wed­ding day. The gold she re­ceives is also a kind of se­cu­rity cush­ion in case she may need it in a cri­sis sit­u­a­tion.’’

But apart from en­sur­ing the girl has a com­fort­able mar­ried life, In­dia’s newly minted mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires are happy to fi­nance a no holds barred wed­ding as they’re keen to cre­ate larger-than-life sagas that mir­ror over-the-top Bol­ly­wood movies and soap op­eras.

“A lot of it has to do with one-up­man­ship,’’ re­veals Nishad. “I’ve had clients tell me, ‘I want my daugh­ter’s wed­ding to be on a larger scale than Mr So-and So’s. I don’t care how much it costs. Just do it.’’’

Not long be­fore Vega, 23, and Aakash, 24, were mar­ried, In­di­ans wit­nessed an­other grand wed­ding. Tausief Alam, who rep­re­sents Congress Party in the Bi­har state assem­bly, hails from Kis­hanganj, one of the state’s poor­est dis­tricts. Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, his mar­riage to the daugh­ter of Hari Izhar Asafi, the head of Bar­batta vil­lage, in the same dis­trict cost about Rs10 mil­lion.

Alam fetched his bride in a he­li­copter, even though she lived just a few kilo­me­tres away, and more than 50,000 guests at­tended the re­cep­tion. Alam de­fended his ex­trav­a­gant spend­ing by say­ing, “I am an elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple and very pop­u­lar. I can­not say no to any­one and so in­vited over 100,000 peo­ple.” Alam also claimed that most of the ex­penses were borne by his friends.

Not ev­ery mar­riage matches the kind of op­u­lence seen at th­ese two wed­dings. But many want to get close. Delhi-based Aditya Loomba, di­rec­tor of sales and mar­ket­ing at Eco Rent a Car, the firm that claims to own the only two 28-foot long stretch Chrysler lim­ou­sines in In­dia, says his cars are fre­quently booked for wed­dings in Mum­bai and Delhi. “It’s all about giv­ing the cou­ple a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence,’’ he says.

And at Rs51,000 for four hours his dec­o­rated limos are no doubt un­for­get­table.

Caro­line Hur­ley, founder of Quintessen­tially Wed­dings, a UK-based wed­ding plan­ning com­pany, opened a branch in New Delhi two years ago. Hur­ley says, “In­dian wed­dings are get­ting big­ger and longer. We’ve done a few Rs20 mil­lion wed­dings al­ready.”

Such ex­trav­a­gance has to be cap­tured for pos­ter­ity. En­ter high-tech pho­tog­ra­phers who en­sure the wed­ding video is of movie stan­dard. Mum­bai-based pho­tog­ra­pher Hitesh Gu­sani is one of the few dabbling in three-di­men­sional pho­tog­ra­phy. Gu­sani ex­plains, “We use two cam­eras to take snap­shots of the same scene.

‘One lucky groom got a five-seater he­li­copter from his fa­ther-in-law as a gift’

Th­ese are then pro­cessed to cre­ate an im­age that has an il­lu­sion of depth when viewed with [3D] glasses.” Sim­i­larly, Delhi-based Naren­dra Pa­tel says his clients de­mand movie-level pro­duc­tion qual­ity. Some of the best pho­tog­ra­phers charge as much as Rs300,000 for an al­bum. Pa­tel jus­ti­fies this by say­ing, “Even a mil­lisec­ond of a dif­fer­ence can ruin the pho­to­graph, so we have to be alert all the time.”

If Bol­ly­wood movies have re­volved around wed­dings, pop­u­lar soap op­eras have car­ried end­less episodes on the rit­u­als. Anu­ran­jan Jha, a busi­ness­man, has gone a step fur­ther by launch­ing a 24/7 TV chan­nel called Sh­a­gun.

Anu­ran­jan says, “In­di­ans crave two things – lav­ish wed­dings and celebrity sta­tus. And my chan­nel is of­fer­ing them just that. We shall soon get into air­ing wed­dings live on TV.”

And from the look of things, no­body is go­ing to press the pause but­ton any­time soon.

In a typ­i­cal Ra­jasthani wed­ding, the bride wears Rani mala, a necklace made of gold and pre­cious stones. This par­tic­u­lar one has a gross

weight of 555g

Yogita and Lalit Tan­war, seen here with fam­ily, cel­e­brated their mar­riage with a lav­ish feast of 100 dishes, 12 gi­ant TV screens to broad­cast pro­ceed­ings, and even a gift of $5,500 for the groom’s bar­ber. The cost of the 2011 Delhi wed­ding was es­ti­mated to have been Rs1 bil­lion

Af­ter Yogita and Lalit’s wed­ding, the happy cou­ple flew off in a five-seater he­li­copter given to the groom by his fa­ther-in-law

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