Akash Ambani and Shloka Mehta are not even married yet. But their engagement party has already knocked our collective socks off.
Aspirational India, please take note.
Most of us have not figured it out yet, but the Big Fat Indian Wedding just became utterly passé, and has been replaced by the Big Fat Indian Engagement.
And we have the Ambanis to thank for it. Where the richest man in India leads, the rest of us must perforce follow.
Akash Ambani and Shloka Mehta are not even married yet. But their engagement party has already knocked our collective socks off. It’s been covered pretty much on a breathless par with the royal wedding. Actually, the royal wedding looks almost traditional and fuddy-duddy in comparison.
Was that emceed by Shah Rukh Khan? Did that have a Bollywood star-studded flash mob? Did their engagement bash come with an even more exclusive pre-engagement bash? Did the royal invitation card go viral like the Ambani engagement party video invite? Did that have Nick Jonas relegated to a “plus one”? Was food air-dropped by floating balloons as if India’s most fabulous people had all suddenly been stranded on a desert island and had nothing to chew on but their Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla lehengas?
Prince Harry lucked out. He managed to get his wedding out of the way before the engagement party at Antilia. Otherwise, it would have been abundantly clear that the sun had set on the British empire and risen in Mumbai bling.
Karen Tran from California did the flowers. Exclusive French patisserie Laduree did the macaron pyramid cake. Mumbai’s Foodlink Banquets and Catering designed the menu. (I say these luxury names as if they even mean anything to me.) And it certainly felt like Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla were put in charge of the hashtags — #great #colourful #amazing #stunning #beautiful #beauty #pretty #spring #colours #gorgeous #abusandeep #abujani #gorgeous #stunning #glamourous #colours #white #shimmer #beauty #lehenga #ghagra #indianwear #AjskBride #AjskBridal #original #trendsetters #always #godblessyouall.
It’s just the engagement and we are already running out of words. The party was described as “star-studded”, “amazing”, “spectacular”, “OMG”, “wow”, “stunning”, “dazzling”. All I could think as I read the gush was we need to save some adjectives for the actual #akashshlokawedding.
The evening was filled with star kids who ended up all over the society pages the next day, their outfits analysed with the same fervour as the red carpet gowns of Oscar attendees. Aryan Khan was in a bespoke suit in navy blue. Sara Ali Khan was in a cream-and-orange lehenga by AJSK and “dewy makeup”. Sara Tendulkar paired her Manish Malhotra lehenga with a sequined clutch. Navya Naveli, we were told, looked like a mermaid in her meadow-green ensemble with a maang-tika and smokey eyes.
Paper after paper, website after website, filled in awestruck details about what they wore even though these are not people who have done anything with their lives yet. They are just the children of the rich and famous but they are already celebrities, posing for the flashbulbs with poise, and the sobering thought is that for these star kids an engagement party like this is the new normal in a way it never was for their parents. It is their entitlement.
For the rest of us, it’s a vision of what it means to be rich and powerful in India. Power and wealth do not have to be wielded discreetly. It is meant as much for boardrooms as it is for public display. It is announced with fanfare with a white piano in the doorway.
It is not meant just for the society pages anymore. It is news and covered as news. It has become admirable to flaunt wealth instead of being discreet about it, and we, the public, are there to greedily gulp the spectacle down, to attend this wedding vicariously. The engagement party just primed the pump and whetted our appetites.
We just envy those who had the money to burn in one night’s party with such élan, we envy those who were invited to it, and we dream about what we would wear if one day we got invited.
In a way, this engagement party happened for us. All the media coverage helped make a private party public and put us in our place, outside the magic circle, our noses pressed to the glass. We were allowed to see but not touch. We can be snooty about it but we want its excess too.
We just envy those who had the money to burn in one night’s party with such élan, we envy those who were invited to it, and we dream about what we would wear if one day we got invited. And let’s not forget, Cinderella had only one ball, this wedding has already had a mehendi, a sangeet and an engagement, and the party’s only just begun. If a 21st century Cinderella dreams of going to the Ambani wedding, she’s going to need more than one fairy godmother.
As the wedding looms, does the anxiety grow among those shiny, happy people who came to the engagement? What will they wear to it so that they make the wedding slideshow? And then for the Ambani daughter wedding? How will the Ambanis top their engagement party? Perhaps Narendra Modi will come. Perhaps Donald Trump, who would be perfectly at home amid the bling.
Once, Bollywood and Karan Johar gave us the Big Fat Indian Wedding. That was made-up, a filmi extravaganza. India’s richest have out-Johared Karan Johar in real life and that too with an engagement party. India Shining is now India Blinging.
In a country where poor families still go broke trying to marry their daughters off, the Ambani engagement feels a bit like a fairy tale albeit one that leaves the rest of us in search of a happy ending.
Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.