Life & Style

COVID-19 impact: Going skinny on Indian weddings

A wedding designed by Devika Narain

A wedding designed by Devika Narain  

Covid-19 may have put a dent in the $50 billion industry, but even as weddings scale down — embracing home settings and handwritten invites — experts say they will become more mindful, with a focus on quality

At Mumbai-based fashion designer Srishti Doshy Shah’s wedding reception on March 14, over a 100 bottles of hand sanitisers were a last-minute addition to the buffet counters. The guests used them before picking up plates, after ladling Thai curry into bowls and while queuing up to wish the couple on stage. At her destination wedding held in Jaipur a few days earlier, the staff wore masks at all times. “My husband and I called up each of the 150 guests two weeks after the wedding to check if they were in good health,” says Shah.

She was lucky to have tied the knot just before the lockdown. Now, couples are exchanging vows on Zoom. Like Keerti Narang and Sushen Dang. They cancelled their destination wedding at Jim Corbett National Park and, instead, got married on April 19 over a two-hour Zoom video call with 150 guests joining in. A pandit chanted mantras, cousins presented virtual dance performances, and the couple took pheras around tables in their homes in Bareilly and Mumbai. “Postponing it didn’t make sense because things aren’t going to be normal anytime soon. Both of us wanted our wedding to be different and this was it,” laughs Narang, 26, who wore her mother’s bridal outfit (she couldn’t pick up her lehenga due to the lockdown), and felt more relaxed because all she had to do was “get ready and sit in front of the camera”.

Sketch of a mandap with seating based on social distancing guidelines

Sketch of a mandap with seating based on social distancing guidelines   | Photo Credit: Punit Jasuja Productions

Elsewhere, others are pushing their summer and monsoon weddings to December, moving celebrations closer home (from Thailand to Udaipur) or postponing the event to 2021. Wedding planning portal WedMeGood’s survey of 6,000 couples found that 60% had postponed their weddings to the end of the year. “This number is now likely to go up to 80%,” says co-founder Mehak Sagar. “Some are also planning simple home pheras and keeping the sangeet and reception for 2021.” Narang and Dang, for instance, plan to host a reception on their first anniversary.

Back to basics

The big, fat Indian wedding, which was getting leaner in terms of guests lists while continuing to be ultra-glam affairs, is set to slim down even further considering social distancing norms and government guidelines. But experts believe, they will also become more mindful and meaningful. “The lockdown has reminded us of what is truly essential; the fluff has left our lives. I believe the time for showmanship is over. The theatrics and larger-than-life sets are going to see a sharp decline,” says Devika Narain, whose eponymous Mumbai-based wedding design company has conceptualised many intimate dos, including Virat Kohli-Anushka Sharma’s secret shaadi in Tuscany.

Wedding photography by Anand CJ

Wedding photography by Anand CJ   | Photo Credit: Creative Chisel

Now, you can expect such compact, close-knit affairs in your neighbourhood — in city temples, gardens, boutique hotels and even a couple’s favourite restaurant — where traditional dholki artistes can be roped in for a sangeet or where both sides can host separate mehendi ceremonies to help guests maintain social distancing. For a November wedding, celebrated Delhi-based wedding planner Punit Jasuja is advising the couple to divide 750 guests over multiple events of 150-200 people. “The reception can be broken down into two days at the same venue, with the same décor for work and extended relations. Elders can be included in religious functions, and youngsters for cocktails and sangeets,” he suggests.

Meanwhile, for those still considering a destination wedding, India is likely to become their playground. “They’ll start looking for venues beyond Rajasthan and Gujarat, perhaps even in the hills of the Northeast,” says Narain. The bride’s and groom’s residences will also host nuptials in the foreseeable future. “Couples may opt for home weddings because they feel that post-Covid19, they shouldn’t be seen celebrating too much,” adds reputed wedding planner Vandana Mohan, whose Delhi-based The Wedding Design Company has catered to many high-profile clientele including Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh.

Road trips and staycations
  • “With restrictions on foreign travel, honeymooning within India is bound to increase and driving holidays will become popular,” says Shelley Thayil, COO of Paul John Resorts & Hotels, which operates the Kumarakom Lake Resort nestled on the backwaters of Kerala. After the last-minute cancellation of their Greece honeymoon, Shah and her husband drove down to Goa just before the Junta Curfew. “The car was the safest bet. We’ve done road trips before, but this was special since it was our first post the wedding,” she says. Couples are also likely to stay longer at a destination and enjoy the activities there. The Leela Palace Udaipur, for instance, is expecting more visitors to sign up for their tailored culinary and spa trails. “This would also be the safest way to explore the destination because we’d ensure high standards of hygiene,” says the brand’s spokesperson.

The right frame

Next month, Anand CJ, founder of Bengaluru-based wedding film and photography company, Creative Chisel, is gearing up to shoot his first home wedding featuring only 20 guests. Accompanied by an assistant (both wearing masks, of course), his photo kit has made space for lenses that will help him capture the subject from a close distance.

“From now on, my assignments will largely be based in the city because more couples will prefer to source local photographers to reduce the risk of infection,” he says. So he is planning to include live streaming (“every enquiry comes with this requirement now”), pre-wedding shoots within the city, and hardbound photo albums as value-add services — to justify his premium fees for local weddings.

Live streaming will also become more immersive (expect to hear ambient sounds of crowds cheering during the ceremonies). “With weddings becoming more intimate, couples will be more relaxed, giving us more time to creatively engage with them,” adds Aditya Mahagaonkar, founder of Mumbai-based WhatKnot.

While Anand has added a Covid-19 safety clause to his contract (with an option to “either offer an alternate photographer or return part of the advance” in case the assigned person shows symptoms prior to a wedding), Mahagaonkar expects clients to ask for his team’s medical records in advance.

Snapshots from weddings organised by Devika Narain

Snapshots from weddings organised by Devika Narain   | Photo Credit: Reminiscence Photography, The Photo Diary, Stories by Joseph Radhik

D for décor

With international destinations no longer forming the backdrops, the onus to make the wedding experience spectacular will fall squarely on the décor and entertainment options. Personalised weddings — like decking up the venue with curios from a couple’s holidays — are likely to find more takers. “Earlier, a one-off couple wanted such a wedding but now they’ll become more mainstream,” says Narain.

As lockdown has instilled a newfound respect for the neighbourhood kirana store, going ‘local’ will find more favour. “Gone are the days of bringing in flowers from Amsterdam or Holland,” says Narain, while Mohan stresses the renewed need for mindful consumption and zero-waste practices. “Design will have to alter to fit the mind space,” she says. “So environmentally-conscious weddings and minimalistic design will rule.” The ancillaries — from mandap makers to florists and light designers — will also need to adapt to the changing styles. “Recycling fabric, props, building materials and leftover flowers will be a good way forward.”

Robot for your thoughts?
  • With guest lists slashed by 50%, the buffet will tone down in size. Expect smaller menus, more sit-down dinners, standard social distancing between tables, and chefs working in vacuum-sealed kitchens. To help reduce human contact, remote-controlled trolleys and conveyor belts will also become popular. So, while bufet lines will get shorter, production costs will increase (by 7%-8%). Meanwhile, with restricted imports, exotic fare — think white truffles from Italy or macarons from Ladurée in Paris — will not make it to menus. “We have to start looking inwards and change the definition of exotic by introducing local fare, whether it’s breadfruit, radhuni spice or the different chillies of India,” says Ritu Dalmia, owner and head chef of Diva Catering. With hygiene a priority, many catering companies will also develop most items in-house. “For instance, they might not bring in a parathawala from Agra or a galouti kebab maker from Lucknow,” says Zorawar Kalra, MD, Legacy Luxury Bespoke Catering.

Keerti Narang’s Covid-19-themed mehendi

Keerti Narang’s Covid-19-themed mehendi  

Guests matter

While the bride and groom will continue to play the leads in post-Covid19 weddings, the guests will get ample spotlight too. There’ll be a lot more focus on quality and attention to detail. “How you invite someone will play a huge role in whether they turn up, considering the health risk involved now,” says Mumbai-based invitation designer Uttara Shah, whose high-profile clientele includes Akash Ambani. Handwritten notes with invites, family photo collages with save-the-date announcements, and high-craft gifts — like keepsake artworks made from the hand-embroidered Gara saris for a Parsi-Gujarati wedding in March — are expected to become “more valuable gifts”.

More families will also send gifts to those who couldn’t make it in person as a gesture acknowledging their blessings, feels Jasuja. “The speeches at weddings will become more meaningful too. This sentimental tone will be key in lifting our communities as we recover,” he says.

But will scaled-down weddings be the new normal? Trrishant Sidhwaani, director of Mumbai-based DreamzKrraft Weddings, doesn’t think so. “For Indians, wedding is a life event and parents save up for years. That’s why this industry is also regarded as recession proof. In the best-case scenario [once the vaccine is found], weddings will be back as early as this December; if not, it could be the winter of 2021.” But, no matter when, they will be a more authentic version of their former selves.

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Printable version | Jul 12, 2020 5:54:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/the-skinny-on-indian-weddings/article31480670.ece

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