The Wedding Whiz
Cases have been rising, lockdown can be announced at any moment, and Delhi’s third wave action plan is already in effect with gatherings restricted to not more than 20 people. Stressed, clients are hitting the panic button. Without wasting a second, ace wedding planner Vandana Bhardwaj swings into action – calming them down, reworking strategies, rearranging lists and venues, and keeping her wits about.
Amidst this crisis, looking back, school seems such a distant yet cherished memory, where a quiet, shy, cry at the drop of a hat Bhardwaj found a safe haven in the back bench, cocooned in her own merry company. Today, as she negotiates her way in a cutthroat business, it’s unbelievable how far she has come. We map the story of this 44-year-old wedding whiz’s life, from Chandigarh to Delhi to dizzying heights, and her company Shaadinvogue, which she co-founded with one of the pioneers of the wedding planning industry, Jai Raj Gupta.
Once upon a time
THE one ceremony that was of utmost importance at the Sonam Kapoor-Anand Ahuja wedding was the Anand Karaj. The laavan (wedding vows) in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib had to be conducted respectfully, honoring all traditions. It was an emotional event, one that Sunita Kapoor, Sonam’s mother, wanted to be perfect. That’s when she touched base with Shaadinvogue, and roped in Bhardwaj. Over the next ten days of the wedding, Bhardwaj worked closely with ‘force of nature’ Sunita Kapoor and struck a lifelong bond.
Reflecting on her this far, Bhardwaj recounts, “ I love cooking, so it was either hotel management or donning the hat of a chef.”
The turning point came in 2001, post BA from Government College for Girls, when she enrolled herself in the first ever batch of the Institute of Technology and Future Trends (ITFT) in Chandigarh. ITFT opened new vistas for her, and Public Relations and Advertising at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan changed her thought process. “It helped me get out of the box, out of Chandigarh.” She was the first of the four sisters to pick a job in Delhi in 2002 thanks to a resounding vote of confidence from her father.
It’s been a forward march since.
After interning at exhibitions, auto expo, trade shows, CII, working for almost ten months, she spotted an opening in wedding management, and was part of the first wedding exhibition in Chandigarh, Vivaah in 2002.
Marriages are made in heaven, but for Bhardwaj, transforming weddings into a heavenly experience was the ultimate experience. She found her calling when she joined Internet entrepreneur Jai Raj Gupta’s trendsetting portal, Shaadionline, interestingly inspired by Jennifer Lopez’s Hollywood film, The Wedding Planner. “Seems like yesterday, I was barely 24, when I joined Jai sir at base level in 2003,” reminisces Bhardwaj, who rose through the ranks with her hardwork, razor sharp focus, and passion.
Wedding planning was just one of the verticals on it, till Gupta bid adieu to it, partnered with Bhardwaj, and co-founded boutique wedding planning company Shaadinvogue in 2018.
Gupta calls her an ‘insta freak with infectious energy, knowledge and skills of the job’. Twenty years of experience and more than 500 high profile weddings, today she is known in the industry for her amazing attention to detail, her go-getter attitude, and strong work ethic.
The Wedding Belle
A family fare, where parents and relatives are at the helm of all decision making, hiring a wedding planner was an idea much resisted till Band Baaja Baaraat fired up Indian screens in 2010 and changed the entire perception about wedding planning. “The trio CDE: Catering, décor and entertainment – can be executed by anyone, but a planner is the architect of the wedding who holds the blueprint to the dream wedding, increases the expanse and knowledge of the client, and guides them in this journey,” says Bhardwaj.
The first rule of wedding planning is to be in sync with the family. “To have a clear understanding of their taste, style, budget, thought process, vibe…every wedding is unique, even two siblings will have polar opposite idea of what they want,” says Bhardwaj.
The industry’s seen a major shift in last five years thanks to social media, and the rise of Millennials, who know exactly what they want. “The parents are now there just to sign the cheques. Don’t get me wrong – millennials strongly believe in the institution of marriage and follow all traditions, but they prefer intimate gatherings of 200 and a classy event.”
But sometimes they do overshoot, and Bhardwaj steps in to separate Pinterest/Insta filters to the real deal.
Still, it’s the magical aura of a marriage, the sanctity, the emotional connect that acts as a magnet for a romantic like Bhardwaj. “Kanyadaan is still considered the most important event, I’ve seen parents who fast in this era too for their daughter.”
Covid may have brought down the guest numbers but the scale remains grand. One trend is clear – people prefer a destination wedding where they can create their own safety bubble.
Rajasthan and Goa remain favourite, with Bali, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Turkey as international stops. Sukh Villas (Chandigarh) and Wildflower Hall (Shimla) are popular too. “Budgets range anywhere from Rs 5 crore to Rs 15 crores.” But the challenges are plenty.
“For instance, the Marwari community’s rituals, especially the Aggarwal Marwari are elaborate. Then there is the terminology – the same word will hold different meaning and significance in different communities.” Although an expert today, it took Bhardwaj endless interactions with the elderly women, family members to get her wedding basics right.
At this level, weddings demand detailing – the work begins right at the airport: meet and greet ideas, unique giveaways, shopping, sight seeing, protocol officers, décor designers from across the world, floral and light experts, celebrity chefs, menu stylists and designers, celebrity performers, celebrity makeup artists, exclusive wedding stationary, poems, welcome letters and thank you notes, trousseau, videography and photography, razzmatazz with confetti, rose petals, royal entry, fireworks, power supplies, generators, mobile toilets, security, valet, fire brigade, ambulance… a gazillion small details.
“The tradition of khatirdaari cannot be undermined. And the golden rule is you simple cannot repeat anything.” Even her own wardrobe is changed annually.
The ABCD of wedding
Bhardwaj swears by her mentor’s rulebook – “Never say no to your client unless you can explain why. Never doubt your client. A wedding is not about reaching the destination, but enjoying the journey because that’s the takeaway for the team, the client and for future projects. Finally, always believe in yourself, take each wedding as your own and be passionate about it.”
Highs & Lows
Her lowest point came when she received the ill-fated call of her father’s passing while doing a recce in Turkey in 2015. “He was my pillar, I am who I am because of him.” Contracting Covid was another blow. “I battled and survived, and got another lease of life.” Co-founding Shaadinvogue would definitely be the high point of her journey so far. Taking bespoke wedding services to the next level, Shaadinvogue has collaborated with DLF Emporio and opened doors to the country’s first wedding concierge in Delhi. “This is another milestone.”
Passion, hardwork and belief in yourself. “As a team leader, I’ve learnt everyone comes with their set of strengths and weaknesses. You take the positive and move forward.”
Wedding planning industry is relentless and offers no personal time. “One needs to learn the art of being a good juggler, and have the support of family and friends.”
The secret is also to look ahead – Bhardwaj’s dream is to now open an entertainment company and write a book on the crazy journey she’s had so far. “I keep penning down all the juicy nuggets, anecdotes that take place in these weddings and there is a book waiting to be compiled there – my experience in the wedding industry.”
Bhardwaj plans to open a venture of Shaadinvogue here along with a management institute.