One Big Fat Bridal Show
Even big, fat Greek weddings pale in comparison to the lavish affairs that are desi weddings. Here's a multifaceted look at the wonderful world of our weddings, and also at the upcoming bridal show that promises to be a notable milestone as it heralds the Georgia region into the league of the other dominant wedding markets in the nation, and even in Canada and UK.
By DEEPA AGARWAL
They say marriages are made in heaven. But weddings?Aha! They are pretty much planet-earth-affairs. And definitely Indian weddings, what with mehndi, ladies sangeet, tens and thousands of elaborate rituals, dolis and horses, zardosi embroidered lehngas, intricate gold or diamond-studded jewellery, tantalizing and scrumptious foods, mandaps, bright and gaudy colors, gifts, endless guest lists, wedding pictures, and honeymoon packages. And while at the end of it all, the marriage might indeed have been a divine call, only chaos is palpable!
However, the pandemonium and "holy" mess that Indian weddings are all about, might as well be a thing of the past ? an account of the bygone 20th century. Says Nisha Singh of Roswell, Georgia, who got married in November 2002, "About 500 people were invited to my wedding, and to manage that many people, a high level of organization was required. Everything needed to be planned and coordinated well in advance." One example of the resulting success though, according to her, was that "there was pin-drop silence during the rituals in my wedding."
Ragini Patel of Weddings InStyle, a wedding decorator for over 6 years now, working on mandap decorations, reception party d�cor, and stage d�cor, shares, "When I got married 15 years ago, I wasn't that involved in the planning process. My parents pretty much did everything. In the last five years though, the brides and the grooms are more involved. Today, the weddings are planned by and according to their preferences, rather than their parents."
Seconding Ragini's opinion, Kalpana Patel of Bombay Bazaar adds, "While earlier, parents' came in first to decide the d�cor styles, today, it's the bride who comes to make that decision. Most brides do a lot of research and are well-informed about the latest style."
So, come 21st century and we see a complete revolutionization of the Indian wedding scene. Sankalp Mathur's marriage was web-telecast live from the Palace Banquet Hall in Norcross, Georgia to Jodhpur and Hyderabad in India. Says Mathur, "It was out of sheer necessity. My wife, Rimpi's folks could not attend the wedding and this was the best way to involve them in the marriage." In the age of love over SMS, online dating, television sponsored swayamvars, and weddings telecast live over web cams to relatives in distant lands, Indian weddings are getting more customized and professionally managed.
From the adorable, haggling and cell-phone wielding contractor, P.K. Dubey, in Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding, who takes pride in calling himself the event manager, to the savvy wedding planners who sketch dream weddings, integrating American flair and elegance with Indian custom and color, the emphasis on exclusivity and manic attention to detail has spawned an industry worth billions of dollars. According to a year 2000 report in the Economist, the Asian wedding industry is "worth 11 billion dollars with an estimated annual growth of 25 per cent."
Kalpana of Bombay Bazaar, can vouch for that. "While some brides come in for simple but elegant ceremonies, others demand elaborate, lavish affairs. Depending on the budget and the styles of d�cor they choose, people can spend from $3,000 to $30,000 on just the decorations."
As the new-age brides and grooms flex their spending muscle, they are increasingly finding themselves faced with professionals previously unheard of in the Indian wedding industry such as disc jockeys specializing in Indian weddings, henna specialists, and companies specializing in setting up tequila bars in weddings. One such profession that has seen the light of day in recent years in the United States is that of the bridal show organizer.
Dulhan Expo, a company launched by Sumit Arya and Shikha Arya has been bailing Asian brides and grooms out of months of sheer legwork by bringing wedding service professionals from different categories under one roof. The first of the five wedding expos or what are popularly called "bridal shows," was held in Garfield, New Jersey on January 5, 2003, followed by four others, all in New Jersey, on February 16, March 24, April 27, and November 9 respectively.
"Our very first bridal expo drew in approximately 2000 brides. That number makes you think about the vast untapped wedding market in the United States. The fact that we truly believe in pampering our brides-to-be has made all the difference. While bridal shows charge brides-to-be an admission fee both in United Kingdom and Canada, we offer free admission, free mehndi application, free portrait session, free magazine subscription, free astrology reading and free food tasting to the brides, grooms and guests," claims Sumit.
While bridal shows are fairly common in UK and Canada, they have been slow to catch on in the United States. Known for their grandiosity, the bridal shows in UK and Canada, have been around for nearly fifteen and seven years respectively. However, the ones in United States lacked the grandeur and panache, until industry insiders like the Aryas' took the matter in their own hands.
Pallavika Patel, more often addressed as Palloo of Palloo's Flowers, a wedding decorator and photographer, clarifies, "I have worked in the Indian wedding industry in the United Kingdom, Dubai, and India and have come to realize that Indian-American brides are the most demanding. They are more focused and generally have three-day weddings as compared to the ones in UK who are content with one-day functions. Also, even though the Asian bridal shows in United Kingdom are grander than the ones in United States, they are comparatively more limited. They are more geared to bridal dress designs and makeovers than the d�cor and other facilities."
Taking the lead from the Aryas', Atlanta's very own Ragini Patel of Weddings InStyle and Balvinder Bhandari of Exclusive International are organizing the city's first major bridal show on January 25th, 2004 at the Renaissance Hotel in Downtown Atlanta. Bhandari, popularly known as D.J. Bally, is a disc jockey specializing in Indian weddings, with an enviable experience of about 18 years. So, while Bhandari makes the marriage fun and enjoyable by catering to the music needs of the bride and the groom, Ragini creates memories with the ambience.
The Asian Bridal Show 2004 in the heart of downtown Atlanta is a gala fashion spectacle, providing the 21st century bride with vendors in different categories all under one roof. The show, with exhibitors showcasing designer jewellery, catering, venues, mandaps, fashion, beauty, and photography, serves as a planning tool for the countless brides and grooms who dream of fairytale weddings.
Those who cannot make it to the bridal show on January 25th can access the services provided at the show using the wedding planner, which will be published twice a year. This will include the list of all the wedding service providers, articles on successful planning of weddings, tips, helpful advice, and a wedding planning calendar.
"We have been to the bridal shows in Toronto, New York, and London and we thought that Atlanta was ready for one of its own shows," explains Ragini.
Adds Bhandari, "Though it is difficult to put a precise number on it, there definitely is a big market in Atlanta. I would estimate a market of about 400 weddings annually. Also, if you consider states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama, for all of whom Atlanta is the nearest major city, the market is huge."
Continuing further, he affirms, "Also bridal shows make a lot of sense in the U.S. because the large family networks do not exist in the same place. In India, a lot of people, including family members and friends help you organize the wedding. But here it's a little harder because the family is a little spread out .There is so much traveling involved that arranging a wedding can be a nightmarish process. But at a bridal show, the brides and grooms can find everything that they need in one location. You have the photographers, videographers, mandap decorators, caterers, jewelers, and the fashion outlets all at the same place."
Nevertheless, the organizers admit that the Atlanta market is still unsophisticated and in the juvenile stage. Conceding to the markets up north, Ragini says, "Atlanta is definitely behind. But you have to realize that bridals shows in states like New York and New Jersey have been going on for a long time now. The people there are definitely more aware and experiment a lot more, say, with mandap styles and backdrops. The styles that were in vogue there three years ago are part of the trend in Atlanta now."
Bhandari observes, "The clients up north have much more extravagant and opulent weddings than the ones here. We are seeing a similar trend now in New Orleans. In my opinion, Atlantans are catching on too, though a little slowly."
It is in this context that the Asian Bridal Show 2004, when reassessed, can be predicted to be a notable milestone in the Indian wedding industry in Atlanta. "The bridal show is going to be trendsetting in many ways not only in the South Asian markets but also the American markets. We have been receiving a lot of calls from Americans who want to come because the Indian fashion trend and style is really big nowadays. The show is extremely timely because Indian colors and fabrics are so in-vogue," gushes Ragini.
All said and done, regardless of whether your marriage is made in heaven or not, there is one thing that the Asian Bridal Show 2004 promises the brides-and-grooms-to-be: "a heavenly wedding."
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