Celebs follow a template for their special day -- an intimate ceremony, with few people and a keen eye for a touch of luxury in every aspect.
Swapnil Joglekar reports.
On April 26, the day India recorded 323,023 new Covid cases, Phagwara in Punjab saw the wedding ceremony of actor-comedian duo Sugandha Mishra and Sanket Bhosale that day.
Sugandha, dressed in a cream lehenga with heavy embroidery, entered in a chariot held aloft by men wearing masks.
As she descended, the scene was engulfed in mystic fog and she tied the knot with Sanket.
In attendance were family and close friend.
Though Sugandha was later booked for allegedly flouting coronavirus norms at her wedding, the well-to-do are following a template for their special day -- an intimate ceremony with fewer people and a keen eye for a touch of luxury in every aspect.
Take, for instance, Dia Mirza. The actor wanted her wedding with businessperson Vaibhav Rekhi on February 15 to be 'environmentally sustainable' and, true to the theme, in a vintage Indian garden.
So, that's what Aash Studio's Aashna Saran, who managed the wedding design and florals, did.
Mirza was pleased and later wrote on Instagram: 'The garden where I have spent every morning for the past 19 years was an absolutely magical setting... for our simple and soulful ceremony!'
Celebrity weddings in the time of Covid have shrunk in size, but not in grandeur.
An elegant and personally curated ceremony that reflects their values in Instagram-worthy light is the flavour of the season.
"No one wants to pay a celebrity a crore (Rs 10 million) to perform for five minutes at their wedding anymore," says Divinity Weddings' Natasha Katgara Gocal who planned Mirza's wedding.
While RT-PCR tests and temperature checks for all have become common before entering the mandap, foreign wedding destinations such as Turkey and Italy have fallen out of favour.
Due to uncertainties over air travel and the fear of quarantine, the well-heeled are choosing palatial properties in Rajasthan instead.
From the venue and bridal couture to jewellery and decor, Covid has changed everything in the luxury wedding space.
Pre-pandemic, India was a promising market for all luxury goods, pegged at $8 billion by a 2020 Statista report.
But now, people are looking to spend more on top-shelf products, some of which can become a family heirloom.
Sari brand Kankatala, which is based out of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, has seen a strong response throughout the pandemic.
"We shipped at least one sari costing more than Rs 1 lakh every day through our online portal," says Anirudh Kankatala, director, Kankatala Sarees.
"In South India, it is essential that a bride wear a Kanchivaram sari. The quality of a Kanchivaram sari symbolises the status of the family."
Textile and apparel major Raymond, which caters to luxury clients through its brands like Made to Measure, saw its business in metro cities jump to 85 per cent of the pre-Covid level in November 2020 with the start of the wedding season.
"Grooms are not shying away from highlighting their roots," says Joe Kuruvilla, CEO, Raymond Lifestyle.
With the focus now entirely on the bride and the groom, what they wear has become even more important.
Designer Manish Malhotra, who designed Varun Dhawan's sherwani for his wedding with bridal fashion designer Natasha Dalal, finds today's couple astutely aware of what they want.
"(Due to the pandemic) I found myself doing a lot of online consultations and I thoroughly loved the process," Malhotra says.
Another big draw is India's ever-growing love for jewellery.
India contributes 29 per cent to global jewellery consumption, according to the Indian Gems and Jewellery Industry Report 2021.
Some of India's biggest luxe jewellers saw most of the spending routed away from the usual extravagance of a 1,000-people wedding into buying gold jewellery.
Bloomberg calculations showed gold imports during the first three months of 2021 more than doubled over the same period last year.
"People saw it as better value for their money," says Rajiv Popley of Popley & Sons Jewellers, a Mumbai-based lifestyle and jewellery retailer.
A new addition to fashion accessories has been masks and mask chains.
For Shobha Shringar Jewellers, which has its outlet in South Mumbai, gold- or diamond-studded masks starting from Rs 200,000 have been a big hit.
Diamond necklaces, platinum bands and solitaire couple rings continue to be major sellers.
While the jewellery market saw some upheaval, the luxury wedding space remained untouched with people spending between Rs 500,000 and Rs 1 crore on ornaments, says Ishu Datwani, founder, Anmol Jewellers, a Mumbai-based luxury jewellery brand.
Television presenter Sanjana Ganesan wore an Anmol diamond necklace for her reception after her March 15 wedding with cricketer Jasprit Bumrah.
It was emblematic of a larger trend of intimate wedding ceremonies.
You wouldn't have a crane bring down a 10-kg cake anymore as people's aesthetics have changed, say industry experts.
"People want to get into detailing. (They ask me) what fabric are you using? Are the flowers used grown sustainably? Earlier their concern was that the ceremony should be loud and happening," says Priyanka Sharma, a wedding curator from Jaipur.
The booking window for events has shrunk too, from five-six months to just a month or two before the date.
"Our guests are looking for more flexibility, from planning to accommodating last-minute changes," says Chandrashekhar Joshi, general manager at The Leela Palace Jaipur.
Indian Hotels, one of the major players in the hospitality segment, has seen great demand for its regal properties such as Rambagh Palace (Jaipur), Umaid Bhawan Palace (Jodhpur) and Taj Lake Palace (Udaipur).
SaffronStays, which manages private vacation homes in India, has also seen its villas snapped up for cocktail parties, mehendi and haldi ceremonies.
Many high-net-worth individuals are hosting weddings at their family mansions.
The privacy and the space these places offer has been key, say experts.
Wedding Web sites with virtual rooms and RSVP managers have also become more important in a changed world.
"We recently hosted a wedding in Hawaii where only the bride and groom were present in Maui with a local minister. We assigned the 200 guests to four virtual rooms, each with its usher to help them with any issues, and manage event flow," says Kanika Subbiah, founder of virtual wedding planning platform Weddingwishlist.com.
With people eager to know every detail about the celebrities getting married, it becomes important to decide what content goes out and how fast it does.
It can be anything from a written message to a selfie-video from the bride and groom announcing their marriage to pictures of the event.
All of this is carefully vetted and posted from their personal social media handle.
Even at the venue, it is common for guests to mob celebrity couples for pictures.
This becomes an even bigger concern when you factor in the pandemic.
Vikram Mehta, founder of Mpire Events, which managed the wedding of billiards player Pankaj Advani and celebrity makeup artist Saniya Shadadpuri in January, agrees.
"At Pankaj's wedding, we knew many people would be eager to meet him. So we had trained his shadow (personal concierge) to handle all of this. We had a few concierges specifically for some celebrity guests, too."
The world is changing and so is what's considered the bare minimum in a plush setting.
As their clients adapt to change and yet try to live it up, the luxury wedding industry is ready to deliver.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com