LUDHIANA-BASED Niharika is your typical girl next door. She had always dreamt of wearing a ‘Sabyasachi’ for her wedding, but the couture lehenga was beyond her budget. The pandemic gave wings to the dreams of this middle-class bride-to-be. As Covid restrictions downscaled the guest list, the family could spare money for her dream outfit. That was then. As restrictions eased, the wedding industry struggled to adhere to new demands. This wedding season, however, has seen the band, baaja, baraat routine not only return to its peppy self, but, even go a step further. Pegged at over Rs3 lakh crore (as per a 2017 KPMG report), the industry was finally seeing a shimmer of hope, only to be threatened by a new variant of coronavirus.
The Omicron scare is forcing people to rethink wedding plans and budgets, but only for the next season. Uncertainty looms large over events slotted early next year. “Those looking at February weddings are especially sceptical,” says Chandigarh-based designer Shruti Singla. If Ramesh Lakhanpal of Senorita Events in Jalandhar is to be believed, the NRI belt of Doaba is already seeing smaller gatherings. “I haven’t organised a wedding having more than 200 guests in recent times,” he says. Amritsar-based wedding planner Mehul Arora is worried. “The wedding industry has already suffered a lot during the lockdown.”
This renewed Covid threat comes in the middle of a booming wedding season. With relaxation in norms and vaccinations in full swing, the industry has been gaining lost ground — fully booked wedding palaces and hotels proof of it.
Dilraj Kaur of Chandigarh-based The Vellvet Box remains optimistic. “The industry is thankfully in a recovery mode,” says the planner. “Most gatherings have around 500-700 guests now and things seem to be improving. With the Omicron variant threatening normal life, we are keeping figures crossed.”
The sombre, simple weddings witnessed during the pandemic never suited the Punjabi penchant for flamboyance. “Compared to last year, there has been a nearly 50 per cent increase in the weddings in November. After a dull season, everyone wants to celebrate big,” says Shikha Sareen, director of Amritsar-based Festyn Palais. The two-year lull has given a rise to new trends too — colour bombs, fake clouds, cold pyros, molecular bars, grander entries of the bride and the groom, lavish cuisines, over-the-top decor, live bands and more, adds Dilraj.
The average budget for luxury weddings in Punjab cities comes around Rs5 crore and beyond, a jump from the previous years. “Those who could not hold destination weddings due to travel restrictions or other limitations are going big. Most venues in city are fully booked for the season,” says Arora.
Ludhiana-based planner Bhanu Ahuja agrees. “The pomp and show of a Punjabi wedding has made an even grander return. As budgets remain the same or have even been upscaled in some instances, the post-pandemic trend of limited number of guests means more expenditure on various other aspects.”
Vimmy Soin, who works with Ahuja’s company, aptly called Big Fat Punjabi Weddings, says that due to the restriction on the number of guests, there has been an increase in the functions being held — bridal showers, engagement, mehndi, haldi, cocktails, etc. “This has been done to accommodate the guest list as every function sees a different set of invitees, with the wedding reserved for the immediate family,” Soin adds.
With uncertainty still hovering over commercial international travel, destination weddings are going local — Kasauli being a much favoured spot, and Mussoorie, Goa and Rajasthan following up.
The decor for a destination wedding could start at a minimum budget of Rs5 lakh, and the overall expenditure remains high, running into crores. Ahuja gives it a different spin. “People are also preferring destination weddings to avoid crowding. It means the guest list of 1,000-1,500 can now be pruned to 100 or even less.” Of the weddings that Soin is handling this season, at least 70 per cent are destination weddings. “A limited list means more spending budget to make it an unforgettable experience for guests. Celebrity entertainers are upscaled accordingly — from Pollywood to Bollywood.”
Singla says smaller weddings during the lockdown have pushed heavily embellished garments out of the room. “Since the gatherings were smaller, people opted for medium to light embellishments. Brides wanted smart cuts on simpler outfits,” she says. Ludhiana-based Supriya Jain of Rose Creations says that during the lockdown, couture outfits were restricted to the brides. “Things are back on track and most female relatives as well as guests are once again buying designer garments. Though forced by circumstances, an interesting trend that seems here to stay is online shopping of couture dresses by NRIs due to the ban on international travel.”
Soin provides another interesting fact: “As weddings were downscaled, people spent more on jewellery; celebrity make-up artistes from Mumbai and Delhi were booked. No one seems to be saving for a rainy day.”
Palampur-based wedding photographer Archit Sood concurs with Soin. “‘Live and celebrate the moment’ seems to be the sentiment pervading the wedding season, back after a long lull. Ceremonies have become shorter. The focus now is solely on enjoyment, capturing every moment in candid pictures and insta reels,” says Sood, who is booked solid again this season.
Interestingly, those who got married during the lockdown and missed out on pre-wedding shoots are having post-wedding shoots now.
Sareen says the focus is on detail, whether it is the wedding invite or the bride/groom’s entry. “Inspired by the Ambani weddings, we have done bridal entries with background dancers and music a la Bollywood. Groom entries with baraat arriving on ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) and vintage cars have happened too,” she says.
A jazzy spread
Food menu is another area that is going big on detail. From desserts with flower infusions to fancy live counters, molecular bars and silver cutlery, the weddings have become bigger and better for the business, says Sareen.
Even in case of smaller menus, specialty dishes from all across India are being sought. “People want gulab jamuns from Daryaganj, Delhi, kulcha chana from Jammu, tiramisu from a Chandigarh bakery, ice cream from Mumbai, etc. Fancier cuisines like Lebanese shawarma, Japanese teppanyaki and sushi and live Thai stations are now fairly common,” says Rohit Abrol of Ambrozia Caterings, Chandigarh.
Inviting, once again
A norm during the pandemic, e-cards are on the wane and physical wedding invites are in. “The e-cards serve as more of a reminder now. As a token of respect for the invitee, most people prefer to deliver the card personally,” says Chandigarh-based Amit Malhotra of Malhotra Paper Mart.
The invite is also seeing innovation and variation. Depending on the budget, a mind-boggling range is available. The accompanying box of sweets has gone even more elaborate — embroidered bags, MDF wood boxes covered with velvet, suede and satin fabrics, filled with fine chocolates, custom-made cakes, and sometimes gold or silver coins, adds Malhotra.
The grandeur of North Indian weddings, already the mainstay of the fashion industry, also means big bucks for planners and auxiliary vendors dependent on it. So much so that it’s making many South and Mumbai-based planners consider shifting to Punjab, says Soin. Let’s hope Omicron doesn’t throw a spanner in their plans.
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