x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Matches made in TV heaven

Weddings are big business in India, with the average celebration costing Dh34,000. So it is surprising that no one has launched a wedding-themed TV channel. Until now. Suryatapa Bhattacharya reports

Manpreet Kaur on the set of Shagun TV, India's first 24-hour matrimonial TV station.
Manpreet Kaur on the set of Shagun TV, India's first 24-hour matrimonial TV station.

NEW DELHI // Manpreet Kaur stands in front of a green screen, introducing photographs of prospective brides and grooms.

Using special effects, their images will be shown on the screen to television viewers, accompanied by detailed descriptions including their height, profession, caste, date of birth and the colour of their skin - which will range from fair and "wheatish" to dusky.

Kaur, 25, the host of Mujhse Shaadi Karoge? (Will you marry me?), is pre-recording a message for the show.

"You feel the pressure to get married," she says. "Everyone is asking you, 'When will you get married?'.

"You have had a hard day at work and you come home and turn on the TV and the picture of a profile flashes in front of you. You say, 'I like it'. You call us, thinking we can help you. We can."

Welcome to Shagun TV, a wedding-themed channel on Indian satellite television that was launched on April 26. It broadcasts 24/7, with the hosts of the pre-taped shows offering advice on the latest trends in gold jewellery, honeymoon destinations and wedding themes and decor.

It was years in the making. The idea first struck Anuranjan Jha, the founder of the station, 12 years ago, when he met his wife online.

"I thought this idea of meeting someone online should be on TV, but it did not take shape then," he said.

For the past eight years, Mr Jha said, he has spent every day working on story ideas for the station, while working for Indian news television.

"Wherever I worked, news stations were always interested in the idea at first but backed off, saying it was 'too expensive', or it was 'not worthy'," he said.

Two years ago, after a friend offered to help with the financing, he quit his job as the head of CNEB news and dedicated his time to launching Shagun TV.

"In that time I always thought 'why is no one thinking about this channel?'" he said. "After all, weddings in India are always big.

"You can say it is part of our culture, our tradition, but it is also something that involves the family and the extended families.

"At a wedding, you have the entire family's attention. Much like our target audience - the entire family."

Marriage is big business in India. Parents often take loans to finance extravagant weddings that, on average, cost 5 million rupees (Dh340,000).

Overall, the wedding industry was worth 1,953.1 billion rupees last year, up 25 per cent on the previous year, according to the business research firm, Netscribes, which is based in the state of Haryana.

On average, families spend the most, about 48 per cent of their wedding budget, on jewellery, followed by clothes, invitations, decor and hotel reservations.

"You can safely assume other markets are involved," Mr Jha said. "You give a gift. It is a car or a flat. Then the real-estate market and the car market become involved and these are not even counted as spending factors, as part of the actual wedding-ceremony figures."

To tap into this, Mr Jha calls his station "a complete information provider for weddings".

For example, Pawan Kaushik, 42, is an astrologer who will reveal how the stars align for couples who submit their charts.

"I try my best to make sure the auras don't clash. You don't want that. They will fight a lot in their married life if that happens," said Mr Kaushik, who will be featured five times a week on a show called, Janam Janam Ka Saath (Together for Lifetimes).

Revenue for the venture will come from advertising by gold merchants, hotels, travel agencies, and other businesses offering wedding-related services.

Other income is expected to come in from subscribers who want to take advantage of the database of dating profiles.

In the basement of the Shagun TV offices in Noida, Haryana, are the studios where editors are putting finishing touches to programmes, while the hosts of the shows are busy in the make-up room or rehearsing lines in the corridors.

Priyank Dubey, 29, is the only male presenter working with the channel's 13 female hosts. He presents Honeymoon Travels, a show dedicated to promoting lesser-known holiday destinations in India.

His pre-taped shows have already taken him to five locations across the country, including Mahabaleshwar in western India, which is known for its picturesque hilltops and popularly referred to in India as the "land of strawberries" .

"In my show, I travel alone and tell the viewer that I feel a bit of sadness not being able to share this experience with a special someone," said Mr Dubey, a bachelor. "If you bring your beloved, the place will be even better."


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