But the low-key nuptials of Vidya Balan and Siddarth Roy Kapoor may be a sign that the pendulum is swinging in the direction of austerity and restraint.
Bollywood stars are leading the way towards smaller, simpler weddings
“Homely” is not the first word that springs to mind when talking about Indian weddings, but that is the word being used to describe the wedding of the actress Vidya Balan and the television producer Siddharth Roy Kapur last weekend. It was a quiet affair, attended only by family and close friends. The venue was not some glitzy hotel but a bungalow in the suburb of Bandra in Mumbai.
The wedding follows the actress Kareena Kapoor’s marriage to the actor Saif Ali Khan in October, held in an equally low-key ceremony at Khan’s flat. No photographers, no razzmatazz, no crowds.
But grandiosity is on display in all the big Indian cities right now because it is the wedding season. On November 25, deemed by Hindus to be an auspicious date, 10,000 marriages took place in New Delhi. On November 30, 30,000 couples tied the knot in Mumbai, spending an estimated 10 billion rupees (Dh67.5 million).
These are big-budget weddings where everything is expensive, including the invitation. These come encrusted with precious stones or – the latest fad – downloaded on to iPads that the lucky guests get to keep.
Ever since the steel baron Lakshmi Mittal’s daughter Vanisha got married at the Palace of Versailles in 2004 at a cost of US$78m (Dh286.5m), other super-rich Indians have struggled to top it.
But some in the wedding industry believe the tide may finally be turning against colossally extravagant nuptials. “Couples want the event to be intimate and meaningful and that’s not possible when you have 1,500 people roaming around,” says Akash Chopra, a New Delhi florist.
Nita Baweja, a computer programmer, decided she wanted to be different and not splurge her parents’ money on a showy wedding. In October, she married her fiancé in the garden of a relative’s house in New Delhi. The food was cooked by friends (with the exception of the cake) and there was plenty of champagne for the 50 people present. The bill was 60,000 rupees.
“We wanted something elegant and the only way to do it was to keep it small. I know my relatives were disappointed but you can’t please everyone,” says Baweja, who has put the money she saved towards a deposit on a flat.
Some couples are going further, donating money that would have been spent on their wedding to a charity. Others are donating their wedding gifts – even cash presents. “We gave the money to a home for disabled orphans close to where we live,” says Vijay Srivastav, a film editor who got -married in July. “The smiles on the children’s faces when they saw the big TV that the nuns bought for them was worth it.”
Angela Davis, an Australian married to an Indian with a big family, has been to numerous weddings and welcomes the new trend – if it is, indeed, a trend. The last wedding she attended was a simple barbecue on someone’s terrace in Bangalore.
She says it is about time Indian couples opted for the personal touch instead of the mega event. “Indian weddings don’t have speeches or toasts. At receptions, you often don’t get a sense of a shared occasion. It often feels like a crowded railway station. If we’re heading for small weddings, I’m delighted,” she says.
The man who may well have started the trend for low-key, low-budget weddings was Varun Gandhi, the nephew of Sonia Gandhi, the president of the ruling Congress Party. Varun is a politician, a breed known for hosting the kind of wedding where even the garlands are made not of the traditional marigolds, but of banknotes. Gandhi chose to do it simply, tying the knot with Yamini Roy Chowdhury at a temple on the banks of the Ganges last year. There were 20 guests. After the traditional Hindu ceremony, a vegetarian lunch was served and everyone dispersed.
But the New Delhi wedding planner Prashant R of Adriyana Eventide doesn’t think he is going out of business any time soon. “Most Indians want to show off their wealth at weddings,” he says. “But celebrities don’t need to show they are wealthy. Stars tend to keep it low-key for privacy.”
Meanwhile, the government’s attempts to persuade people to slash wedding costs have failed miserably. In Kashmir, where the wedding feast must comprise numerous dishes known as wazwan, the government has issued edicts (largely ignored) ordering a reduction in the number of dishes and has even specified the amount of mutton that should be consumed.