As the world waits with bated breath for a coup d'oeil on the DeepVeer wedding that took place in Italy last week, the estimated eight-figure budget of the affair was enough to raise many eyebrows back home. As we wade through the pristine waters of Lake Como on Instagram for the latest dope on the tightly-guarded celebrity wedding, renowned saree draper Dolly Jain who returned from the ethereal Italian affair finds herself among the privileged who got a closer look at the happenings. But she shies from giving away details and upholds her non-disclosure agreement at the very mention of Deepika or Ranveer. “I did a classic Sabyasachi drape with a Dolly Jain twist for the wedding,” she says with a smile.
For the past 15 years, those with deep pockets have employed Dolly’s esoteric services. Her field of expertise might seem frivolous to most, yet she is sought after among the rich and famous, including the likes of the Mittals, the Dhoots, OP Agrawal, and Ashok Lohia, to name a few. At the back of her hand, the artist knows a grand total of 325 drapes and will soon be releasing a coffee table book that will give the world 365 Dolly Jain drapes one style for each day of the year.
Her acumen is put to test at the most crucial hours before the wedding, as she gets an idea of the outfit only during the bridal make-up. But Dolly never fails to work her sartorial magic. She proudly claims, “All the designers whether Abu-Sandeep, Rohit Bal, Manish Malhotra, Sabyasachi, Ananmika Khanna know, ‘Dolly ko kapda de do and in five minutes she’ll sort it out.’” She usually works with a team of 22 girls but prefers to work alone at high profile weddings “When we do these high-profile weddings, I travel alone and I’m efficient enough to drape everyone myself,” she adds. With skyrocketing wedding budgets and the foreign destinations, onlookers are blinded by the razzmatazz of the big fat fairytale wedding completely losing sight of the fairy godmothers working their charm in the background. A destination wedding typically requires anywhere between three to eight months of planning. In the case of Anushka and Virat, wedding planners Shaadi Squad roughly had around three to months to plan the wedding from scratch. “It all started with discussing various destinations. They gave us three keywords to start venue scouting green, countryside and private,” says Tina Tharwani, co-founder of Shaadi Squad. After a lot of options were thrown in, Tuscany was marked on the map to be final wedding destination. “We then started to lock in key vendors, getting visas sorted for their guests and pulling together other ancillary processes in place,” she adds. Shaadi Squad more recently planned Priyanka Chopra’s Roka ceremony.
For celebrity make-up artist Namrata Soni, the first coat of primer usually involves calming the nerves of overwrought brides, “When you get them talking, you take them away from what is to come,” she laughs, saying, “The key to the bride being happy is finding a make-up artist that suits her style.”
Namrata was also the make-up artist for Sonam Kapoor’s big day and has been the actress’s go-to artist for the past 10 years. She narrates, “Sonam just sat on a chair and completely trusted me. Even for her mehendi, she requested for a braid of flowers. So I didn’t have to take approval about the way I want to place the flowers, she simply asked me to do whatever I do best.”
Namrata strictly does only 10 brides a year and her fees start from Rs 1.5 lakh per event making her affordable only to that rarefied strata of society. “I like to keep it controlled and do only 10 brides a year or else all the brides will end up looking the same,” she says. Her mantra has always been less is more in every aspect. “I never cake up my bride because it’s extremely important to recognise yourself 20 years later when you remove your make-up at the end of the day,” she laughs. Namrata starts working on her mood board at least a month or two prior to the wedding. “This season is all about metallic and holographic make-up looks and I’m looking forward to it,” she claims excitedly.
Catering to the creme de la creme and grabbing a considerable stake in these budgets is mehendi artist Usha Shah who has also developed a cult-like status over the past 38 years. She started off when Sunil Dutt booked her for his daughter Namrata’s wedding in 1984, “Sunil Dutt and family saw an article about me in Air India’s in-flight magazine Namaskar. It was my first ever article, spread over four pages with my mehendi designs. They saw that and called the publisher for my number,” she recalls. It was at that party that Usha was catapulted to fame, “I was publicised by word of mouth, and the attendees included Jaya Bachchan, Pinky Roshan and others,” she adds. Recently she rendered her services for Isha Ambani’s engagement, with her team of 14 assistants in tow. “Neeta Ambani wanted a bracelet design that included the names of all her three children, their wives and her son-in-law,” she shares.
“Earlier, everyone would tell me ‘aapko jaise accha lage waisa design banao’ but now clients give me pictures of designs from the Internet and I have to keep abreast constantly,” says Usha who works with a team of 30 senior ladies, eight of whom are thoroughly trained only for the bridal mehendi. “We do it in groups of four and pre-decide the design. I take the lead and others follow. The mehendi would usually take 12 hours to complete, but we try and complete it in three hours as a team,” she shares.
Capturing the most important moments of some of the most important people of the country can be a daunting task and balancing off the big fat factor is the greatest task. Photographer Anand Rathi of Reels and Frames has a clientele that includes a host of business houses in the country and has shot for Kumar Mangalam Birla, Praful Patel’s daughter Poorna Patel’s wedding, Sonam Kapoor and Anand Ahuja’s wedding and the Binani family to name a few. His price starts at a whopping `5 lakh per day. “Most of these weddings are what you would typically fall in the biggest, fattest category. They are not even your usual big fat weddings. This is the 0.1 per cent of the country,” he says. For such weddings, his team works in large numbers and sprawls themselves across the venue. There is no room for blink-and-you-miss-it fatalities, even at a wedding with 1,000 guests. “At the core of it, every wedding is about the couple and the family, so you have to maintain the sanctity and candidness for the immediate family. At t
he same time, these weddings are also large social gatherings, the numbers and the attendance are also of a very high stature. So you’ve also got to make sure that everybody gets featured,” he states.
Bhavnesh Sawhney, co-founder of Wednishka, has been the preferred choice of wedding planners for some of the most opulent weddings in India. At the Sanjay Hinduja-Anu Mahatani. wedding in 2015, these wedding wizards flew down Jennifer Lopez and Nicole Scherzinger of Pussycat Dolls to regale the guests.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg. In 2017, Wednishka put together a $30 million wedding for UAE Billionaire Rizwan Sajjan’s son’s wedding. The wedding took place across four days on a cruise ship where the guests sailed from Genoa in Italy to Barcelona, Marseilles, Cannes and back to Savona in Italy. “The cruise had 1250 guests on board,” he informs.
Wednishka are the only wedding planners in India that do everything from conceptualisation, management, technical, production, entertainment, and execution, in-house. They incorporate the latest technology into their designs, “For instance using augmented reality invites, musical invites that have a pre-recorded musical track playing as you open it, are some of the unique ideas we offer to our clients,” shares Bhavnesh. Currently trending is Isha Ambani’s wedding invite that plays the Gayatri Mantra and has a handwritten note by Isha Ambani paying an ode to her and Anand’s grandparents. Evidently, innovation and personalisation seem to be the flavour of the season.
Tina agrees that personal touch is the most crucial part. “We recently pulled off a polo-styled brunch for a South Indian couple in Jaisalmer as the welcome party for guests. This was because the groom was a polo buff and was deeply fond of horses. Personalisation truly goes a long way and ends up becoming a talking point for guests even once the wedding concludes,” she says. Their job usually starts at “families and us are getting to know each other,” says Tina. “We love playing the ‘secret card’ she shares. Shaadi Squad works with a bank of trusted vendors for their decor, wedding invitations, gifting, etc. “While we have established a certain comfort with a few of them and frequently recommend them to families, we are always eager to work with new vendors and collaborators. Most of these guys are picked basis budget, requirement and general taste and preferences of the couple. We always make it a point to book vendors well in time so that they don't get busy on other assignments during peak wedding season informs Tina.
Yet the piece de résistance of a wedding —no matter how extravagant the entertainment –— is undoubtedly the wedding feast. Pleasing the palettes of high profile guests can be a backbreaker and the last word in deeming a wedding successful. The entrees, appetisers, and hors-d'oeuvres have to not only be innovative and multicultural but also — finger licking good. “When we do destination weddings abroad so it’s very important that we take our Indian chefs with us because the chefs abroad can’t do the detailing and the taste we Indians want. So the Indian chefs work alongside the international chefs in the kitchen. We do not hesitate to bring on board Michelin star chefs from all around the world if fits the family’s requirement,” says Bhavnesh, who roped in celebrity chef Marut Sikka for the Sonam-Anand wedding. “We try to incorporate personalisation and suggest the creation of an array of signature cocktails and mocktails as well,” says Bhavnesh.
On the other hand, Shaadi Squad flew down chef Ritu Dalmia for the Virushka wedding who dished out some of her signature dishes from her restaurant Cittamani. The wedding planners also built a satellite kitchen at the Tuscany venue to ensure every food craving was satiated with aplomb.
Behind every high-octane celebrity wedding, is a team of unsung heroes, also known as bartenders that jerk the party into real motion. Ruturaj Bhonsle is the head of business development for The Wedding Bartenders, who have an experienced and professional team of 100+ trained mixologists, supported by a dedicated in-house stores team. The Wedding Bartenders follow a simple philosophy, that of “making your day your way.”
For instance, Ruturaj narrates, “At Ms Sonam Kapoor and Mr Anand Ahuja’s wedding, the bride and the groom’s preference was authentic classic cocktails as honestly one can’t go wrong with it. From a perfectly balanced daiquiri to a refreshing mint julep, to the ever-classy bloody Mary; our mixologists served Moscow mule, margaritas and the likes in their sophisticated attires to the star-studded guest list who attended this grand wedding.”
However, he stresses the most important aspect of a celebrity wedding is managing your service. “Here you have to be very specific in terms of the choice of cocktails. Your bartenders have to be very well-educated in terms of understanding each and every preference.” The menu planning usually starts 15 days in advance for any event.
At most parties, the bar counter is the busiest and one has to patiently wait their turn before being served. The bar table is certainly the great leveller. Yet how does one make some of the most important people of the country wait in line?
“Hospitality basics come to your rescue,” laughs Ruturaj, “when busy an eye contact, a genuine smile and acknowledging that the guest is waiting for a drink is more than enough,” he shares.
The final touches to every wedding are the floral arrangements that add the final magical element owing to its perishable nature. The time required to set up a decor usually depends upon the magnitude and the structure of the design. Team Wednishka has even created vast structures and brought a barren land to life overnight. “At a recent wedding we organised in Dubai, we created a floating stage on the indoor pool of Hotel Palazzo Versace, which was one of the most beautiful and enchanting stages created by us,” shares Bhavnesh.
Soon to enter the league of high profile celebrity weddings is Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas, whose wedding at the Umaid Bhawan Palace will also garner considerable international attention. The splurging continues uninterrupted even as moralists lambast the obscene display of wealth and power, for, in India, weddings are a gold standard, Bhavnesh says, “We come from a country and culture where two things are the most important in any individual’s life. One is to buy a home and the other is to get married. In our culture anybody from any strata will make sure that their child’s marriage is taken care of, people will go to whatever level they can for a wedding.”...