Now that the temporarily misaligned celestial bodies are about to reconfigure, according to the Hindu almanac, the times are once again auspicious for the formation of conjugal ties. And with that the season for weddings is upon us once more. A recent survey estimates that the market for planned weddings is worth over Rs 1.4 lakh crore and growing 25-30 per cent per annum. Interesting questions arise: what is the living core around which clever marketers may spin expensive illusions for families from Mumbai and Manhattan, Delhi and Dubai? And how? Who first spotted the core and began putting together theme weddings at exotic venues and successfully coaxed hundreds of brides into the waiting arms of a multi-million rupee/ dollar/ euro/ pound wedding industry?
A few smart ad agencies were the first to spot the appeal of the happy family wedding for Indians who thronged to watch and swoon over a Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. They nudged awake male fashion designers who were drooping after the slump that followed the brief post-Sushmita Sen explosion of high fashion in India. In the big fat Indian wedding, they have finally found an unending, ever-thriving and lucrative pan-Indian circuit. Fashion events, which precede the wedding season, are nearly all geared towards the bridal theme. In afternoon TV shows, women watch how they set to work on a young woman, turn an ugly duckling into a swan. They pick a pimply and buck-toothed rich kid about to get married, begin with her skin and then move on to her body, hair and teeth till every kink is gone and the “product” gleams. Specialists in wedding attire now have successful franchises running all over. Many of them might actually loathe the natural femininity of the heavy-busted, wide-hipped Indian woman. They seek to curb, starve, restrict and drape her in inconceivably tortuous ways to make her look like Sylvia Plath’s “orange lollies on silver sticks”. The designers are also assisted by wedding planners. And this entire retinue is funded by parents for whom such a wedding, attended by celebrities from the world of politics, finance and entertainment, is a great investment. Apart from being yet another announcement of having arrived.
A majority of the women surveyed confirmed that their wedding attire was at the top of their personal list. This list guides the whole celebration — no matter what the community and who the groom. The Boston Globe coined the name, bridezilla, for this larger-than-life bride who calls all the shots. A bridezilla, an opinionated and well-heeled young woman, has always dreamed of a fairytale wedding. She is a matriarch who believes in the romance patriarchy has spun around weddings. Enter the best professionals, designers, planners and makeup artists that money can buy.
The bridezilla usually prefers a mix of traditional rituals and contemporary global trends. She will make sure, for example, that traditional events such as the ring ceremony blend seamlessly with cocktails and Western-style dancing. And that the sangeet be made memorable by Bollywood-style group dancing, and that all events be followed by rich and varied international cuisine, culminating in the cutting of a lavish, made-to-order wedding cake.
Of course, in India, the doting parents of the bride will generously pay for all this and a suitable trousseau as well. With 50 per cent of India’s demand for gold being for weddings, bridal jewellery naturally tops the chart. Then comes the wedding attire, which is increasingly handwoven and embellished with stones, beads and gold embroidery. Not for the bridezilla those awkward dresses stitched by the neighbourhood masterji guided by family elders. Nor all those long and boring rituals led by domineering aunts and grandaunts. No true bridezilla could tolerate unprofessional bouts of singing and dancing that involve gangly cousins, balding uncles and fat aunts gyrating like mechanical toys at her sangeet. That bit must be pruned and replaced with choreographed dancing. Of course, the bridezilla does want immediate family to attend and also retain the traditional rituals that make an Indian wedding so photogenic and quaint. But she demands that they be tweaked and oriented towards making her wedding videos and YouTube clips perfect viewing material for her friends across the globe.
Why do feminists not applaud the fact that, on this important day in her life, a young woman has been able to exercise autonomy in matters of the wedding venue, décor, menu, dresses and jewellery, and even dance and music? The sad irony is that it will be the bride who is repeatedly belittled and mocked the most by the wedding rituals that follow — beginning with the coy acceptance of a jaymaal around a bowed and covered head, followed by being “given away” (kanyadaan) by one man to another, and ending with banishment under the guise of a flowery and tearful vidayee to an alien home. She may not fully understand the implications of these until its too late.
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist