Bands to florists, wedding vendors pivot as marriage ceremonies go online

There is happiness in V Thulukanam’s voice, carrying over the blaring sound of trumpets in the background. “We are performing for the first time in nearly five months,” he says. Thulukanam and his troupe of Gokul Music Band are performing at a funeral in Taramani, when we reach him over phone.

Founder of a band predominantly hired for weddings, Thulukanam says, “We have come to a point where we are okay with playing at funerals.”

With COVID-19 still lurking, the wedding market has been at an all-time low. As Chennai-based wedding planner Vidya Singh of Sumyog puts it pithily, “There was a time we welcomed guests with rose water. Now it is with sanitisers.”

Bands to florists, wedding vendors pivot as marriage ceremonies go online

With weddings being scaled down, ancillary services such as vendors for décor, flowers and mehendi are turning to other options. The Tamil month of Aadi is usually when business is at its peak. Since the Government has not yet given permission to reopen big temples and mandapams, Thulukanam says he is forced to take up whatever little work that comes his way.

The last they performed was at a Christian wedding in March, which now seems like a distant past. Thulukanam had received advances for a couple of weddings — ranging from ₹80,000 to one lakh for a 40-member and 60-member crew respectively — when the pandemic struck.

With weddings going online, florist T Suresh of Thirunavukarasu Flower Decoration has found a way to supplement his earnings: he sells to the one place doing regular business — hospitals. He has been supplying flowers to high-profile clients like Apollo Hospital and TVS Group for pujas and other festivities.

That is not to say he can make this a new business model — Suresh used to make about ₹50,000 to over a lakh or two, depending on the scale of the wedding in a pre-COVID world. “Customers are no longer willing to pay the price, since the number of people attending is no more than 50,” he says.

Bands to florists, wedding vendors pivot as marriage ceremonies go online

Flowers such as orchids, carnations and sweet williams are imported and sourced from four places in Tamil Nadu. For traditional weddings, flowers like jasmine, lilly, rose and sampangi are used. “We have not been importing flowers in the last few months because stems and leaves have wilted due to lack of maintenance.”

Costs of local flowers have also spiked. “For example, if jasmine used to cost ₹10 earlier, now we have to pay ₹30,” says Suresh.

Others such as mehendi artist Asha Mehta have chosen to take it slow. She works with a network of women trained in the art and says that quite a few of them are turning home cooks. A wedding would earn her anything starting from ₹4,000 for bridal designs. Yet, she has kept herself busy with small functions such as Rakshabandhan, and Teej, the latter popular among the city’s Marwari community.

“Until last week, I had no work,” says Viju George, lighting engineer, and founder of lighting company Prolite. “But then, TV production restarted two weeks ago.”

Before the pandemic, he worked on weddings, award shows, and audio launches such as for Bigil and Petta. Currently shooting for Vijay TV, he explains how, instead of saying yes to small budget lighting, he has taken this downtime to service his equipment and upskill himself. “I have been learning a new software that will make lighting a room easier,” he says. Hopefully, he will get to use it soon, as the economy finds its feet.

This is the sixth in a seven-part series on Chennai and its people, in lockdown, celebrating 381 years of resilience.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 9:35:13 AM |

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