Covid and personalisation of the Big Fat Indian wedding

Simran Patel, 27, had been planning her perfect day for more than a year. The guest list, the songs, the food to be served -- she had it all sorted. And then Covid lockdown struck!
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

You must have all seen the memes by now. This time the shaadi season has collided with a raging pandemic, but Indians don't seem to have any plans of halting their weddings.

Indian weddings are all about opulence with revelries lasting for days, where millions of rupees are splashed around, even by those who are otherwise tight-fisted.

So, what did the desi people do when their hands were tied down by a virus that has claimed over 1.45 lakh lives in the country? They evolved.

Simran Patel, 27, had been planning her perfect day for more than a year. The guest list, the songs that she wanted to dance to, the food to be served -- she had it all sorted. Until the Covid-19 lockdown came in the way that is. 

"I had a small wedding with a few friends and immediate family. The rest were on Zoom. We had to postpone the wedding for four months and everything had to be cancelled. We were expecting at least 800-odd people to be present for the functions. But it looks like we will have to throw a big party once this pandemic is over," said the optimistic newlywed.

In India, at least 10 million marriages take place every year. But, as people adapt their way in this treacherous year, the $50-billion wedding industry has truly borne the brunt of the pandemic.

Celebrity wedding designer Ambika Gupta, a  leading light in her field of work, estimates the loss to be in millions. Her industry is built on a chain of workers ranging from farmers to artisans and daily-wage labourers, who were struggling to make ends meet. 

"The weddings in late March had to be cancelled because of the lockdown and there was no work till August. This gap pushed a lot of small companies to the brink. Many had to close their shops," she said.

The personalised pandemic wedding

Over the last decade, the wedding industry has grown exponentially. Apart from the main ceremony, the pre- and post-marriage functions have picked up popularity since the late 90s. Yes, you can blame Karan Johar for it. Beyonce was flown in for Isha Ambani's wedding and just about everyone was tired of counting the number of post-wedding receptions Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone hosted for their guests.

According to Ambika, after the forced ceiling on the guestlist, most people are seeking personalisation. However, it can be tricky to create flamboyance with just 100 people in attendance. 

"A big fat Indian wedding would have at least a minimum of 250 people. It can even go to 15000. The client is now seeking more personalised options for the guests. Weddings have become intimate, but we still have to create grandeur for them so that each guest is made to feel special. People in India save for weddings and what they have saved, they would like to spend," she observed. 

Actor Kajal Agarwal, Ambika's latest celebrity client, had gifted her guests a silver bell and a personalised note.

"And they are now spending on offbeat venues and decor," she added.

Actor Kajal Agarwal with Ambika Gupta. (Photo| Instagram)
Actor Kajal Agarwal with Ambika Gupta. (Photo| Instagram)

The destination wedding, made famous by celebrities, is a love child of India's passion for travel and search for grandeur. This took a backseat once the lockdown restrictions were imposed. With international travel restrictions still in place, the demand for offbeat venues has surged. A venue cradled in the hills or offering the warmth of the sea has been the most sought after option for couples. 

"Families are looking for venues in the 300-kilometre radius, so that they can be closer to home and still get a sense of destination. We recently did a wedding in Pondicherry where there were French villas. We have a wedding coming up in Coorg as well," she said.

The unseen enemy

Even as every part of this country soaks in the wedding revelries, the threat of the virus looms in the background. Multiple social gatherings have turned hotspots. Allocating a budget for sanitisation has become a must for all such weddings.

"The apprehension is still there. This is an unseen virus. Families are trying to make their weddings safe. Hotels have sanitisation units. In other venues, professionals are hired for thorough sanitisation. But, how long can one not work? We are trying to be protected. We have learned to evolve around the pandemic," Ambika said.

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The New Indian Express