Marriages are made in heaven but are made to be ‘a heavenly affair’ on earth. That business of turning reality into fantasy is pegged close to $50 billion. It is growing by 20 percent per year, says a KPMG report. 3,400 people in India, as states a Forbes India article, have a high net worth of more than $50 million. Out of that lot, 1,500 are estimated to be worth more than $100 million — the sixth highest in the world after the US, China, Germany, the UK, and Japan. With a potent spending power, the Indian crème de la crème tends to take marriages very seriously. Seen as an image-building exercise, these events are nothing short of a PR blitzkrieg.
And what’s better than a show of power; to be able to beckon the powerful or to be able to wield influence over the influential? Besides getting married on an isolated island or having a convoy of 25 Harley Davidson for baraat, managing a Shah Rukh Khan to Katrina Kaif to pretend that they are ‘family’ or roping them in for entertainment acts is the ultimate trump card.
Bollywood and weddings in India have always been inextricably intertwined. One of India’s biggest blockbusters, Hum AapkeHainKoun..!(1994) was a celluloid marriage that went on for three-and-a-half hours. Then onwards, be it the clothes or the décor, or even the rituals of stealing the groom’s shoes or as seen in 2013’s YehJawaani Hai Deewani, performance stand-offs between the bride and the groom’s side, Bollywood is the ultimate wedding reference guide.
The idea is to look like you walked straight out of a film. And what’s better than having a star walk with you to make that fantasy more believable; to come and waltz with you and be seen by the world as glamorous and classy.
A class act
“The super rich do it because of ‘I can do it too’ mentality,” says a leading wedding planner, who doesn’t wish to be named. “Entertainment is an integral part of a wedding but calling in Bollywood celebs is for those who want to announce that ‘they have arrived.’ It is the same line of thinking that makes them aspire to a limited edition Louis Vuitton bag. The wedding proclaims their status to their extended families and community at large,” shares the planner who has been two decades in the business and organized weddings for India’s topmost industrialists.
Glance through the Isha Ambani-Anand Piramal and Akash Ambani-Shloka Mehta wedding pictures and you’d see all A-listers posing alongside. Even the reticent Aamir Khan danced with Kiran Rao, and Shah Rukh Khan shook a leg with his wife, Gauri Khan. The guests present, of course, must have been regaled but the true reflection of its magnitude lies in how it sent traditional and social media into a tizzy.
“Getting your wedding splashed on the glossies is a dream for many, but this is tough unless a household big star name is present on the wedding party list. And as these stars are not their best friends, one has to shell out big money to get them to attend, become a part of the wedding and maybe even pass off as a friend of the family,” shares Khushi Singh Chaudhary, Head of Luxury and Weddings, Percept Limited. Her company recently organized the magical Montreux wedding of Tanya Ganwani, grand-daughter of the founder of the Lals Group with London-based Rajiv Varma, heir to one of the largest rice companies in the UK.
She confirms that this frenzy to make one’s wedding a star-studded affair has turned into somewhat of a contest. “Each family attempts to make the events more lavish and invite bigger stars to augment their status,” she adds.
All the world’s a stage
Most stars too don’t shy away from such ‘invitations.’ Coming at a price tag of anything between Rs1 crore to Rs3.5 crores, these Bollywood personalities look at it as another avenue to perform and connect with the audience.
While the most popular are Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone, “high-energy performers like Ranveer Singh, Akshay Kumar, Vishal Shekhar, Baadshah and Mika Singh bring their own flavor to the occasion,” says Bhavesh Sawhney, Director, Wedniksha Wedding Planners. They managed the Sonam Kapoor-Anand Ahuja and former civil aviation minister Praful Patel’s daughter Poorna Patel’s marriage to industrialist Namit Soni.
As the big names charge big money, smaller acts worth Rs20 lakh have broadened into musical gigs and stand-up acts. “It all depends on the stars you sign on and how current, topical and sought-after they are at that point in time. Another determining factor is whether their appeal is regional, national or international,” adds Singh.
The stars too find these to be lucrative opportunities. It is the chance to earn a humungous amount for just an hour’s work. Plus, the visibility and top-of-the-mind recall they get across media strengthens industry network and relations beyond the filmy fraternity, informs Singh. Often, stars change their work schedules if the fee and nature of the event warrant it.
The bottom line is to engage the guests as much as possible. Tejveen Kaur of T’zires that has organized weddings of the Munjal and the Singhania family, says, “A lot of families like the pomp and glamour. They want the guests to be gripped rather glued to just being there at the event. They want an artist that can hold the attention of guests of every age group. The duration of the guests’ stay at a party is truly proportionate to its success, and these stars do great justice to keeping the crowd entertained.”
In the 90s, Govinda could be seen spouting lines from his cult favorites striking the audience by his inimitable dialogue-delivery. Though dance acts have become the most-sought-after performances, music gigs and stand-up acts too draw their own share of following.
“A certain star known for his daredevilry may enter from a boom crane or come down a hoist. Another, whose image might have gone through a complete 180-degree makeover may deliver a path-breaking act. All options are there for families to choose from. In fact, some may prefer music artistes as they do a 90-min act than a dance act of just 20 minutes,” says the anonymous planner.
Besides establishing the family’s eminence in society, these events are pivotal networking events. Notes researcher Parul Bhandari in an article for The Conservation, “These weddings then also serve as informal sites of brokering among political and business elites. As a prominent “fixer”, a middleman of sorts for the political and social honchos, whose job it is to introduce influential figures to one another to expand their networks, told me, “The most effective meetings are outside the meeting rooms”.
This professionalism percolates down to watertight contracts too as opposed to the oral agreements of the 90s. “Nowadays, all weddings have planners to ensure that the family gets the worth of what they are spending. Thus, comes in the deliverables contract. It also safeguards them from a situation where the star doesn’t show up due to his/her busy schedule after promising attendance. Stars and talent management agencies too prefer contracts to safeguard the safety and comfort of the star, since there are many cases where the star is put into an uncomfortable position,” adds Sawhney.
Singh feels that every profession will have a spin-off once the talent attains a certain status, position, stature, and aura. It is a natural progression of business from being a pure actor to adding additional areas of value add business such as celebrity advertising, ribbon cutting, and attending rallies, parties, functions and wedding celebrations. She says, “Star power is big brand equity and will never come cheap.” Rightfully so.