A fancy Indian wedding can cost anywhere from Rs 5 lakh to over Rs 5 crore, and spell a windfall for hundreds.
New Delhi: You might have a difficult time finding a luxury car for hire in Delhi at the moment, because, as wedding consultant Chetan Vohra of Delhi-based Wedding Line tells ThePrint, “nearly all of them have gone to Udaipur for the Ambani wedding”.
No less than a festival in terms of scale, the Ambani marriage, hot on the heels of the Deepveer and Nickyanka nuptial galas, has put the big fat Indian wedding back in the domain of scrutiny and debate.
With American pop icon Beyonce flown in for a private performance and wedding cards estimated to be worth lakhs, the Isha Ambani wedding has been making headlines for its Rs 700 crore price tag, which reportedly also included three meals a day for 5,100 Udaipur locals during the three-day pre-wedding celebrations.
That Indians love splurging on weddings is well-known, with middle and lower-class parents often saving money for years to throw that one big party for their children.
The typical Indian wedding involves the purchase of expensive gold jewellery and fancy clothes for multiple events like mehendi, sangeet and haldi, with the venues booked putting on offer a range of food items for guests that often number in the hundreds.
Modern accompaniments include pre-wedding shoots or choreographed photographs of the couple, as well as quaint destinations that proponents believe give weddings an additional appeal.
The rich, predictably, take this national obsession up a notch [or two].
Behind the scenes
While many scoff at the brazen displays of wealth at big-ticket weddings, behind the veneer of luxury lies a self-sustaining micro-economy that heralds a windfall for dozens, often hundreds, of people.
According to Vohra, around 250-300 BMWs and Mercedeses, among others, were transported to Udaipur for the pre-wedding celebrations of Mukesh Ambani’s daughter Isha, who is set to marry Piramal scion Anand Piramal in Mumbai Wednesday.
“You have to remember that, with these luxury cars, there are also the drivers, maintenance people, logistics coordinators,” he added.
“Even the person who comes to greet you at the airport may be earning only Rs 500 a day, but if he’s a student working part time, for him that means an extra Rs 1,500 in his pocket [for a three-day affair],” Vohra said.
Actor Priyanka Chopra and popstar Nick Jonas’ wedding in Jodhpur, followed closely by the Ambani pre-wedding celebration in Udaipur, have proved diamonds of opportunity for Rajasthan.
A traditional tourist favourite, the state has emerged as a popular site for destination weddings with its regal forts and distinctive culture.
From florists, tent operators, beauticians, tailors, painters and sound technicians to tea vendors, luxury weddings that go on for days significantly boost the economy of places where they are held, by tapping not just cottage industry but also formal enterprises such as hotels, consumer durables and airlines.
Talking to ThePrint, Vohra recalled a sunset dinner his company organised for a couple on the dunes of Jaisalmer a few months ago. The set-up included banjara and folk musicians.
“In destination weddings, everybody wants a flavour of something,” he said.
For Rajasthan’s local artists, luxury weddings mean higher earnings than their regular wages.
Over the last week, Javed Khan’s ‘Shahi Darbar Band’ in Udaipur has been playing at least three baraats daily. The band charges anywhere between Rs 30,000 (for the wedding alone) and Rs 2 lakh (for playing at related functions), and eagerly awaits the peak wedding season from November to July each year.
“Sometimes, they [the families] have multiple functions in a day, and even the guests pay generously,” he told ThePrint. “This is the time we make the most money.”
For Lisa Alam Shah, executive director of travel firm Micato India, the rise of Rajasthan as a high-profile wedding destination “possibly started with the wedding depicted in the movie Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, which provided screen time to The Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur”.
While Rajasthan’s hotels have never suffered per se, Shah agrees that “they have definitely been doing much better” of late.
“Weddings are a very big business for the hotels,” she added. “And with the rise of destination weddings as a concept in India, they’re making a lot more money.”
Where a local wedding may not require the arrangement of accommodation for guests, destination celebrations call for massive hotel bookings as both the bride and groom’s relatives and friends converge on the chosen place.
A traditional Indian wedding would mean the booking of hotel rooms for three to four days, and then there is the food and beverage requirement for guests as well the possible use of the in-house salon.
According to hotel executives, as much as 30-40 per cent of the revenue comes from events and functions.
“A huge part of any hotel revenue comes from events and sale of rooms and banquets besides the food and beverage segment,” a senior executive at Taj Hotels told ThePrint.
“This naturally takes care of the entire sales window,” he said, adding that these weddings also help promote their properties.
For the hospitality industry, sources said, weddings and related social events have become a focus area.
Rahul Pandit, a hotel industry veteran and member of CII’s National Tourism Committee, said weddings “are gradually becoming the central point for more and more Indians”.
“This part of business, related to weddings, for hotels is growing,” he added.
According to website IndianRetailer.com, around one crore weddings take place in India annually.
It says the Indian wedding industry is currently valued at an estimated Rs 1 lakh crore, with an annual growth of 25 to 30 per cent.
“The estimated cost of a wedding with no expenses spared could be from Rs 5 lakh to over Rs 5 crore in India,” a report on the website says.
A big-ticket wedding employs an estimate of 500-700 people as labour, sometimes requiring over 10 carpenters, a fleet of over 100 cars, and “50 people just for decor and flowers”, said Rajiv Chhajer of R.C. Events.
And the best part is that these weddings are “recession-proof and weather-resistant”, said Leher Kala, whose company Hutkay Films makes high-definition “celebration movies” of events.
Kala recalled a wedding she shot — “where colour-coordinated orchids were flown in from Singapore and the five-member florist team was from Hong Kong” — to stress the need for India to strengthen its focus on weddings as an industry.
“All of this creates more employment and more people benefit,” she told ThePrint over email. “The government should be very worried about why so many wealthy families are choosing destinations like Thailand and Italy for weddings, when it could so easily be done here (to the benefit of so many Indians).
“The [destination] weddings showcase the Indian culture and give a big boost to overall tourism within and outside the country, besides, of course, pitching India as a wedding destination,” said Subhash Goyal, founder chairman of the STIC Travel Group of Companies.
“Typically the guests — numbers are huge — mandatorily visit the local artisans and shopping forms a part of these ceremonies,” he added.
“Big-ticket weddings are crucial for small tourist destinations in India,” said Kala. “Everyone, from cab drivers, to hotels, to shawl and jewellery sellers benefit. Thanks to social media, images of the destination get splashed on Instagram and Facebook. It’s great publicity, for free.”
Jai Raj Gupta, founder of Shaadin Vogue, the event management company that organised actor Sonam Kapoor and businessman Anand Ahuja’s wedding in May this year, also made a case for grand weddings, as the “money spent essentially percolates down to the poorer sections of society, because otherwise it would have been locked up in banks”.
“If you look at wedding destinations, for example, they have built up complete ecosystems to take care of the emerging market,” he said.
An earlier version of the report contained a typo in the reference to the hospitality industry. It has been corrected. The error is regretted.