There is no way you'd have missed it, the season of weddings at exotic locales, Tuscany in winter, the city of lakes with the dream palace in the middle of one, the iconic building, Antilia, overlooking the Mahalaxmi Race Course, which once towered over the bustling spinning mills and workers’ shanties of Lower Parel. You could not have missed the newspapers’ glossy pages and television screens that were filled with pictures of bridal wear and exotic food, of the jewellery and bangles and lehengas and the sangeet, all the medieval Rajput regalia. To complete the plot the grooms were ferocious looking, twirling their moustache and pointed beard and thumping their chest. You did not know where the movie ended and reality began.
The richest man in the country had announced the December wedding of the daughter, Isha, with her fiancé, Anand, son of the business family, the Piramals. The two had got engaged at the beautiful Lake Como in Italy in September, and the pre-wedding festivities began in Udaipur two months later. That sort of brought to the finale the string of weddings that began with the Virat Kohli- Anushka Sharma one who promptly went to Tuscany for the honeymoon.
Isha and Anand and the entire Ambani clan had graced the Priyanka Chopra-Nick Jonas’ sangeet ceremony and Christian wedding and the Deepika Padukone-Ranveer Singh reception in Mumbai. There is some common thread running through these ceremonies, and that is the lens of Joseph Radhik whose camera had captured these moments for eternity. Isha seems to have been so impressed by the photographs of the Priyanka weddings that she immediately hired him.
It is reported that 200 chartered planes landed and took off from Udaipur airport in the course of the week during the Ambani event. All the hotels in the city had been booked for the guests and over 1,000 luxury cars like Jaguars, Porches, Mercedes, Audis and BMWs had been booked to ferry the guests. That Rajasthan was going through the state election campaigns and political leaders were flocking to the city was incidental.
The entire show had been planned by an event management company, apart from the photo backup by Joseph, that had created a water world built on pontoons on one of the ghats of the Lake Pichola and had one at Udai Vilas Ghat that could accommodate 1,000 guests. Among the guests was the former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The association of the Clintons and the Ambanis goes back more than 18 years and they had met several times both in India and abroad. And President Bill Clinton had held meetings with the Ambanis, including father Dhirubhai just before and after he left the presidency. Earlier, in March, when Hillary Clinton came to India to deliver a keynote speech in Mumbai, she dined with the Ambanis at their 27-floor Antilia residence.
Among those who descended on Udaipur were steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar and, of course, Priyanka Chopra and singer Nick Jonas.
The former head of advertising giant WPP, Martin Sorrell, BP Group CEO Bob Dudley, 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch and Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih were also among those invited.
All this opulence must seem disgusting to those who believe in austerity, but there is one school of thought that says that such destination weddings are actually cost effective. Like the Tuscany honeymoon of Virat and Anushka or the Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh celebrations at Lake Como in Italy.
These festivities in foreign locales cost just half what it costs in India. Since these locales cannot accommodate the 1,000 plus guests you would be forced to invite if it these were held in the home town, and you can prune the guest list to a modest half of that. For the Ranveer-Deepika event a modest 70 were invited, and according to a wedding planner, Pandorama Events, ‘With such difference in numbers you save a lot on food, beverages, and cost in hotel rooms.’ With gorgeous locales you save also on decor and candles. Another event manager, MS Events, says a wedding outside could be done for as little as Rs.1 crore to Rs.5 crore.
Apart from poverty stricken Italian countryside, even Bosporus in Turkey with its fabulous palaces has slashed prices after the recent terrorist attacks. This is the case with Egypt also as well as the chateaus in France, the vineyards in Tuscany, and beaches of Thailand, Bali and Malaysia.
Meanwhile, according to reports Ranveer and Deepika might be Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma's neighbours in the extravagant high rises that line the Worli sea face.
Ranveer and Deepika had been dating each other for four years and had starred in three films together, Goliyon Ke Rasleela Ram Leela, and Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat before their betrothal. Interestingly, Ranveer and Anushka had burst into the Bollywood scene with the blockbuster, Band Bhaje Barat, a movie about a marriage event management duo. It has come full circle.
Interestingly, our neighbour, China has a different take on such lavish weddings. Recently the Ministry of Civil Affairs had called for an end to such lavish weddings and giving expensive weddings as these went against the country’s socialist values.
Weddings, instead, the ministry said, should ‘integrate core socialist values and Chinese traditional culture into the construction of marriage and family.’
Officials stressed at a recent conference that it is ‘necessary’ to incorporate ‘Xi Jinping Thought,’ the Chinese President’s oft-heard political ideology, into wedding and marriage planning.
Local authorities have also been asked to come up with more specific ‘wedding etiquette’ rules.
In a country where weddings are a way for people show off their wealth – in a culture where the concept of ‘saving face’ is incredibly important, families from all socio-economic classes prioritise keeping up appearances, such curbs must have come as a shock..
For years the authorities have been trying to rein in extravagance at traditional ceremonies, going after excessive funerals, some families run into severe debt to hold elaborate rites, even hiring strippers and professional mourners, and now, are cracking down on opulent weddings.
Last year, they had adopted restrictions limiting from the number of guests, stipulating fewer than 10 tables, and the guest list can’t exceed 200 people, as well as the value of wedding gifts, which must be under 60,000 yuan (£6,820), with houses and cars as inadmissible presents.
Some of these have also been aimed directly at reining in ‘bride prices,’ which have been on the rise in China after four decades of the ‘one-child policy’ had led to a scarcity of women.
Last year, Dengzhou city in Henan province attempted to rein in the practice by capping the cost for a bride at 30,000 (£3,400).
These ‘reverse dowries’ typically include the cost of an expensive wedding and a cash payment to the bride and her family. Prices, however, have been rising significantly in rural areas where the gender imbalance is more acute there.
Recently, the tradition of playing pranks on the bride and groom, originally thought to ward off evil spirits and help the happy couple relax, have been getting out of hand with stunts that are humiliating and often violent.
One groom was recently hit by car while trying to escape a pre-wedding hazing that involved being tied up and beaten and last year, and a group of bridesmaids were injured with broken glass when a groomsman tried to break down a door. How familiar all this seems. In Uttar Pradesh, soon after the Supreme Court ruling on triple talaq, at a village wedding a quarrel ensued after the bride’s friends stole the shoes of the groom and waited for him to recover, a prank that is always played at such functions. The enraged groom and parents promptly proclaimed talaq thrice and the bride’s side had no hesitation in accepting such an edict from a humourless family.
All this proves that despite the border disputes and race for economic supremacy, the two neighbours have so much in common culturally and in enduring peasant customs and family bonds and peasant fears.