I was a Features writer at Forbes India, where I wrote primarily on healthcare and explore retail as a sector. The technologies that make both these industries tick interests me greatly. For story ideas or feedback you can reach me on Twitter @Niloferd
I will never forget a close relative’s wedding where the families got along so well that someone remarked, “you can’t make out who’s the boy’s side, and who’s the girl’s side.” Apart from having a gorgeous story, and the goodwill of both families, there was one thing the couple did right: they had a vision of what they wanted their wedding to look like and got a wedding planner to take the reception to the next level. Weddings, when done right, can leave you with the happiest memories of your life.
This wedding was six years ago when the concept of wedding planners was still catching on. Today, a lot has changed in the Indian wedding market. So, last Sunday, when the Taj Group released its ‘Wedding Barometer’ survey, which had polled a little more than 1,000 people, I pored over the press release. I was intrigued by some of the findings:
• While arranged marriage still rule in India, love marriages have increased from the 6 percent of our parents’ generation to 26 percent now.
• Wedding attire, the wedding, food, guest list, and the decoration were the five most important things.
• 20 percent of people surveyed had bachelor or cocktail parties.
I threw these findings to a number of wedding planners to see if they agreed or not. (The planners I spoke to have been in the business an average of six years, and have between them a collective experience of a little less than 1,000 weddings.)
The Taj survey said that food was only third place in the list of priorities at a wedding, which surprised me. I was relieved when a Bangalore-based wedding planner agreed! Lakshmi Rammohan, cofounder, Dreamweaver Weddings, says, “Get the food right, first. It is absolutely important to have a trousseau, but they are two different priorities. One’s a priority for you and the other for your guest.” Rammohan is the youngest planner I interviewed, and has been in the business for four years, but in that time she has managed to carve a niche for herself as an NRI wedding planner. She thought too many hotels play to the crowd instead of their strengths. She says, “We had a wedding at the Meredien in Cochin. They have good Malayali food, but they put everything on the menu except Malayali food when it came to weddings. We turned it around for the wedding and said go all out on Mallu food, and it was a huge success.”
The Wedding Barometer findings on the number of love marriages indicates change, but slowly (the increase is over 25 years). Most couples still choose to go to mum and dad to find a marriage partner, but they do make the wedding their own. A Mumbai based planner, Candice Pereira, creative head and co-founder of Marry Me Wedding Planners, says, “These days, couples are more involved with the wedding planning than earlier, where parents would take all the decisions. And we are also seeing more personal, intimate destination weddings taking place at exotic destinations.”
As the couple involves themselves in the decisions made, decoration has increased in importance, but planners told me that people in Bangalore and Mumbai were more aware of floral arrangements. A Delhi planner, who did not want to be quoted, said most people in Delhi did not know the basics of a floral arrangement, but it all worked on ‘show.’ They would attend a wedding, and come to her saying “we want our wedding to be just like theirs.”
The publicity-shy Delhi planner also highlighted the tough aspect: money. She said she ends up having to really fight to get people to pay 25 percent of the cost on bills as they want to avoid paying service tax.
What happens usually, Pereira says, is that “We offer clients two options, one is to pay us for our services only and the second is to route all payments through us and we pay all vendors for the wedding.”
Rammohan says that who’s paying for a wedding has changed, but since her clients are mainly NRIs, perhaps that is not a resident Indian phenomenon. While who pays for the wedding still falls in the grey zone, one thing that was not addressed by the survey, but I would have liked to see is the cost of a wedding over the years.
I’ve helped organise a few weddings in the last few years, and know that the cost of a wedding has shot up. Six years ago, the per-plate cost at most three- or four-star Bangalore hotels was approximately Rs 500. Now, it’s around Rs 1,000. Outside the hotels, a regular caterer who used to charge Rs 200 per plate now takes Rs 500. Rammohan says, “The smaller your budget, the more you need a planner so that you get bang for your buck.”
So while things are changing, costs could be shooting up. If design, globally, is going through a retro theme, I think there's scope for weddings in India to go retro, to come up with innovative trends to beat the rising costs.
If not, I hope your dreams meet your budgets.