CHENNAI: Among all the wedding ceremonies and functions, the musical night, known as sangeet, is something that most youngsters look forward to these days. Though it is predominantly associated with north Indian weddings, having a sangeet has become common for south Indian weddings too.
At these events one can see elaborately choreographed pieces that friends and family perform much like a scene out of a Bollywood movie. One can see people of all age groups dance to tunes like Kala Chashma, Slow Motion or Rowdy Baby.
In order to have a special fun night, many young brides- and grooms-to-be are hiring professional choreographers who are reaping the windfall as their clients merrily shake a leg.“I have always loved dancing and have bullied my fiancee to do a solo dance with me,” says Ananya Sridhar* who is getting married in October. “I can’t see myself choreographing and neither do I want my family members to handle the burden of being the ringmaster and rounding everyone up for practice. I’d much rather we hire a professional and get it done. It is expensive but it is hassle free and you only get married once, so why not?”
Get on the bandwagon
Kavya Giridharan, who runs Black Swan Dance, agreed that the trend of having sangeets is indeed catching on quickly in Chennai. “Even orthodox Brahmin families are opening up to the concept as it provides a day to unwind and enjoy,” she says. “I started my own dance school in 2017 and the demand for choreographers gave me confidence to do this full-time. Sangeet choreography is different as it is far more personal and many times involves getting people who are hesitant to get on stage to come forward and dance. As sangeet rehearsals also are mini-reunions of sorts for the family before the wedding, it becomes important to make it fun and efficient so that they put on a good show, have a great time and look good.”
The camaraderie and celebratory mood that sangeets promote have made it a popular addition to weddings in the south. “Five years ago when my sister got married it was the first sangeet in my family and it wasn’t as common as it is today,” says 25-year-old Ambika Rathnakumar. “We wanted it to be different and didn’t go with the usual boys side versus girls side format, but rather made it like a way for both families to bond and come together. We used to practice and then have dinner together. Getting someone from the family to choreograph seemed too stressful, so we hired a choreographer to teach us for close to two months. It was hassle free because they took care of other things also like editing the songs.”
While coordination and execution of dance can be a task, technology has aided the process. “With the advent of technology and being able to share dance videos with people all over the world, a new excitement surrounds sangeets today,” said Rohini Mohan, a city-based choreographer. “Those in different cities, get together and learn from the videos, which creates a positive buzz and has made it easier as well. South Indian weddings are formal, traditional and solemn affairs, but with more cross-cultural weddings happening and Bollywood going global, people are more open to the idea of a sangeet and more willing to hire a choreographer for the same from the time I started in 2013.”
Social media effect
There’s also the influence of popular culture in the form of over-the-top movies and the swift penetration of social media. “Couples, brides especially, know exactly what they want,” says a wedding planner in the city. “They come with suggestions off Pinterest for wedding decor, and outfits from Instagram. Bollywood is definitely a soft power in India; One look at the wedding business and you will see that it has a solid footing here. Everyone wants to be the hero and heroine at their wedding and experience their happily ever after, as they should. And the sangeet is no exception which is why we also suggest that they hire a choreographer so they can put on a memorable show.”
Choreography can range from something very simple to full-blown productions that involve props, costumes, backdrops and background dancers. Further, some choreographers help the couple with ideation, choosing the songs, preparing a script for a skit in addition to editing the music. “I take dance classes but I look forward to the sangeet sessions,” says a choreographer working for a dance company in the city. “It is lovely to be an integral part of someone’s wedding celebrations. By the end of the practice, they treat me like I am one of them, and I am in on all the jokes. It also helps that how much I make on my classes for a month, I make in a few sangeet sessions!”
However, choreographers complain that more often than not people are willing to pay for someone like a make-up artist, but tighten their purse strings when it comes to the choreographer.“Just like there are different kinds of make-up artists, there is a wide range of sangeet choreographers,” says a sangeet choreographer on the condition of anonymity. “If someone wants a quality experience, they should be willing to spend for it. Most families don’t understand the amount of work that goes into putting a performance together. They now realise the value of a good make-up artist, but they need to understand that the same applies for choreographers.”
She went on to explain that while clients expect about six dances of around 3-5 minutes each to cost about Rs 20,000 and covered under 15-18 sessions, ideally families should be willing to spend Rs 18,000 per song inclusive of everything. However, she says there are people who can meet their demands. Interestingly, she says, Chennai is slowly warming up to the idea of dancing to the choreographer’s tunes.