Padmalakshmi Parameshwaran, 58, was worried as she chalked up the wedding plans of her daughter Divya. It was not the fact that Divya would be moving away from her that troubled her. What got her thinking was the hour-long ritual sans any fun that her daughter would have to endure at the famed Tirupati temple. Padmalakshmi’s idea of marriage included an element of fun, which she missed when she married Paramesh 34 years ago. With three more months to go for the wedding, Padma and Paramesh have made some changes to the plans. It will be in Tirupati, as planned, but the reception would be at a five-star hotel in Chennai, with all the grandeur and charm one gets to see in the movies.
Said Divya: “It is going to be a one-time affair. My parents wanted to cherish every moment, from picking jewellery to my attire to the video. My fiancé and I wanted the wedding ceremony to be more colourful.” In fact, Divya, along with her fiancé, Prahladh, had tapped all the openings available in Chennai to make her wedding ceremony a unique experience.
Divya is just one among the new-age brides in south India, particularly Chennai, who will go to any extent to make their wedding look spectacular. Weddings in southern cities, of late, have become swanky for all classes of people.
Said Pradhyumna T. Venkat, founder and CEO of marriagecolours.com: “The market is opening up in Chennai more than ever before. Weddings are planned meticulously. A fundamental shift has happened. Now the bride and the groom want the wedding to stand out irrespective of their economic status. Everything, right from the fabric, jewellery to the decor, theme, food and photography, has changed. For instance, destination weddings, which were once preferred by the rich and the royal, are now the most sought after by middle-class people in south India. Picturesque locations, anywhere in the world, with pocket-friendly budgets are the in thing.
Said Soraya Homchuen, director of Tourism Authority of Thailand: “We have been witnessing a gradual increase in the number of Indian weddings in Thailand. Earlier, couples from north India preferred destination weddings. Today, more and more south Indians, from Chennai and Hyderabad, look at places like Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya and Krabi as the destination.” Soraya said Indian couples also liked scenic and pleasing destinations like Greece, Bali, Seychelles, Paris, Miami, Rome and Sri Lanka. Said Soraya: “We have about 200 Indian weddings happening in a year in Thailand, and south Indian traditional weddings are very popular. We have 100 to 500 guests travelling from India for such weddings.”
But what if the couple cannot afford to fly their relatives abroad for the wedding? This is where the wedding planners pitch in, bringing in different destinations to the marriage hall.
Venkat’s company is planning to build the White House and the Pittsburg Balaji Temple for a Chennai couple who live in the US. This theme, he said, will have the entire elements of being in a foreign land—the reception backdrop will be the White House, the Pittsburg Balaji Temple will be the marriage backdrop, Niagara falls will be the backdrop for the sangeet ceremony and the food section will have the Grand Canyon backdrop!
To make a replica of the Tirupati temple, said Venkat, one has to shell out upwards of Rs5 lakh. Recently, two devotees of the Hare Krishna movement in Chennai, chose the Radha-Krishna theme, where there was a touch of Lord Krishna right from the invitation to the food setting to the colours of the fabric worn by the couple and their relatives.
Venkat, recently, had to make the Tirupati temple for a wedding in January. The cost, he said, is anywhere between Rs5 lakh and Rs20 lakh for the theme.
Said Pranesh Padmanabhan, owner of a niche photo company in Chennai: “Money is not the criterion for the young brides and grooms from south India these days. What they look for is the fun factor and the uniqueness in every aspect on the big day.” Pranesh does at least 180 style weddings in a year and is booked for the next seven months. “Such is the demand,” he said.
Gone are the days when a hexagonal formation of the groom’s smiling face rotated around the bride’s henna-clad hands or tacky poses enclosed in 3D hearts or relatives posed in groups for photographs. Families in southern cities are now willing to spend much more on photography than they spend on fabric and jewellery. Pre-wedding videos, wedding movies shot in documentary style and separate albums for social media are much sought after.
Said Anjalee of Anjalee and Arjun Kapoor Label: “Many brides are moving away from traditional saris and going for a fusion of western and traditional elements like lehengas with trails.” Brides don’t go to the designer with a sari in mind, but with a broad mindset for a cocktail outfit for sangeet ceremony. One thinks of traditional attire only at the time of tying the knot. Said Anjalee: “The men also want to experiment with different colours, cuts and fabrics. South Indians are more design-conscious.”
Not just the fabric, how you display it also matters. Here comes the sari draper, who ties the sari in different styles. It is not easy to drape a heavy south Indian Kanchipuram silk sari, especially when the bride is particular about her perfect look. The art of draping a sari in myriad ways for the D day is now a business of its own. Dolly Jain, a professional sari draper in Kolkata, can drape a sari in 18 seconds. She said: “The brides want to look elegant. The most preferred is the mermaid drape. It suits every body type.” Dolly can drape any sari in over 125 ways and the heavy silk saris in 30 to 45 ways.
Bridal make-up has also evolved with times. Said Cori Walia, a leading make-up artist: “The make-up is decided based on the weather and the venue of the wedding.” Most south Indian brides go for wine and deep burgundy for their big day and their hairstyles are Bollywood inspired. Said Cori: “Brides want themselves to get transformed into a Bollywood heroine on the big day.”