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October 08, 2014

Happy Endings

Text by Madhu Jain. Illustration by Farzana Cooper

Every couple wants to play out their fantasy on their wedding day whether it is enacting the role of queen and king or getting married in shorts on a beach. And then increasingly, there are those who want to make the nuptials more meaningful and accessible, ruminates Madhu Jain as she attends a Delhi wedding

The scene: the wedding in Delhi of an acquaintance’s daughter….

The mandap is ablaze with white. Jasmines, tube roses and white carnations form a heavenly canopy. The bride and groom are perfectly matched, as they sit on faux-silver chairs that emulate the thrones you see in the mythological epics on the small screen. She looks like a queen in her pink, crystal-encrusted lehenga, so heavy she’s almost stooping. A kundan tikka almost conceals her forehead. Bits of jewellery ornamenting her perfectly-coiffeured hair sparkle through the heavily worked chunni that covers her head. A string of solitaires circles her throat.

He looks like a king in his pink-going-on-red, heavily-embroidered achkan. His rather large maroon and beige silk turban with its aigrette of emeralds and diamonds is a nod to the headgear of the Mysore maharajas. The buttons on his achkan look like diamond studs — the sort our maharajas used to wear. His upturned jootis, a flamboyant statement. Never mind that the bride and the groom are Punjabis, and from fairly affluent but not seriously rich business families. This evening they are playing at being king and queen from other lands, and other times.

Courtesy, no doubt, the enterprising wedding planner with some sort of modern-day Aladdin’s lamp. She can rustle up jewellery that looks like a king’s ransom from shops where you can rent jewellery by the hour. For those with more shallow pockets, she can also conjour up bridal lehengas and maharaja-like turbans on hire. The nuptials take place against the backdrop of a sublimely-lit palace-fort, whipped up with plaster of Paris and other accoutrements, and as good and deceptive as any instant Bollywood set.

Fantasy Play
Progressively, or should I say incrementally, weddings allow couples — all the way up and down the wealth or social ladder — to act out the fantasy of being whatever they want to be that one particular day. No matter what happens the following day or days after, just like the happy endings in all the Mills & Boon lore where the story ends abruptly when the protagonists declare their eternal love for each other. Heaven forbid if you turn the page.

Perhaps, the savvy ones know this. Wedding videos are getting to be de rigueur. And I suspect one of the major reasons for their proliferation is to cater to the need to immortalise a wedding: only God knows for how long the couple will live happily ever after, or indeed, how long the marriage will last. So, understandably the real master of ceremonies of weddings these days is the photographer, especially the wedding cinematographer, a fairly new species.

He even asks for retakes: “Can you do the jaimala again? Can you put the sindoor in the maang once more and look a little more towards the camera…? Can you put the engagement ring on again, did not get the right composition when you did it?”

And so it goes, not only for the wedding day but for all the functions preceding as well as following the big day. Wedding videos emulate Hindi movies: their editing as savvy, the music inserted as melodramatic, and the colours as over-the-top. All this places quite a burden on the ‘actors’. Their smiles have to hold, their teeth be lily white, and their make-up done so that it looks good on screen.

No wonder bridal make-up is powered up. Beauticians can achieve miracles with just a few strokes, making Cinderellas out of plain Janes. The outfits, get-ups you could say, to borrow a Bollywood term, are supposed to be in colours that will look good in the videos. Subtle colours and designs that flatter up close and personal in real life will not make enough of an impact in reel-life. A friend known for her damming witticisms once remarked: “All the brides are so beautiful, wonder where all the ugly married men came from.” Well, I do have to add: the same applies for grooms and married men. A frequent lament from the women’s quarters about men of a ‘certain age’: “where have all the men gone?”

Small is beautiful
Not everybody is going the Yash Chopra-inspired Bollywood way — the more the merrier maxim. Many couples have begun to go down the untrodden path. Taking the baton from the hands of their respective families, and even more so from the larger clans, they curate their own weddings. Small is now beautiful. A cousin tells me that his son who recently got married and his fiancé had insisted on only those guests whose first names they knew. Out went many branches of the family tree and many business associates and ‘contacts’ with whom my cousin had wanted to curry favour. Weddings traditionally provided the opportunity to return favours as well as impress guests by displaying your widening circle of friends as you clambered up the ladders to the coveted realm of the rich and famous.

Casual weddings are nothing new: getting married in your shorts on a beach in Goa or Kerala has become a cliché. Certainly, an increasing number of couples want their guests to have fun. But more interestingly, an increasing number of those getting married want to make the nuptials more meaningful, and accessible. A few are also scripting their own vows, combining thoughts from both religious and secular texts, including poetry and paragraphs from their favourite works of fiction. The daughter of a friend who is getting married this winter says: “I don’t want my wedding to be like a backdrop to some serious chomping of tandoori chicken legs. Nor do we like the idea of people waiting impatiently for the disco floor to light up and groove to the latest Bollywood number while we go around the fire. We certainly don’t want bored spectators.”

And, hopefully, the days of the Cecil B. Demille-like extravaganzas may soon be over, along with the stampede to the banquet tables the minute the fires underneath the food flare up.

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