The Great Indian Wedding Extravaganza

High on glamour and opulence, weddings are getting bigger and fatter as families splurge on luxury to make a statement

IF Bureau

The big fat Indian wedding is getting bigger and fatter as an increasing number of families splurge on charter flights, haute couture, live performances, game nights, themed receptions, and lavish feasts to create unforgettable experiences by redefining extravagance. This is hardly surprising since a wedding today is not just a celebration, but a statement about a family’s financial might, social standing, and networking power. This explains why guest lists are no longer limited to families and friends but include a vast array of political and business possibilities. Take the recent three-day nuptial celebrations of Anant Ambani, the youngest child of Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, in Jamnagar which saw a confluence of Bollywood glamour, Tech billionaires, and sports icons. With A-Listers like Ivanka Trump, Karlie Kloss, Rihanna, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Shah Rukh Khan, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Sachin Tendulkar, Anant’s pre-wedding celebrations looked more like a mini-Davos summit. The festivities, which saw the arrival of over 1,500 guests from around the world, reportedly cost more than Rs 1,200 crore. What’s more, the celebrations have only just begun. Anant’s wedding is scheduled for July.

Looking at the increasing grandeur of Indian weddings, it is hard to imagine a time in the ’60s and ’70s when austerity laws enacted by the government forbade families from serving more than 25 guests at a wedding. Simple weddings were the order of the day, with the India-Pakistan war forcing the government to ration food and essential commodities. However, by the turn of the century, the Indian economy gathered steam and Bollywood-inspired razzle-dazzle weddings became the norm as aspirational and ambitious Indians began to shed the shackles of austerity. Over the years, government efforts to curb ostentatious weddings came to naught and weddings only became grander with every passing decade.

With more than 53 per cent of the country’s population under 29, the wedding industry is expected to witness an unprecedented boom. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry registered robust recovery, growing at an annual rate of 7-8 per cent. Weddings in India are known to be elaborate occasions that typically last several days. However, small and intimate celebrations became the norm during the two years of the pandemic. Today, opulent and glitzy weddings are not only back, they are bigger than ever with couples hosting increasingly extravagant celebrations.

According to a report by wedding planning website and app WedMeGood, the wedding industry may have surged to $75 billion in the 2023-24 wedding season. Increase in consumer purchasing power and growth in the luxury segment has helped several vendors move up the value chain. Wedding professionals say business has grown significantly owing to the rising popularity of destination weddings. According to the Confederation of All India Traders, 3.2 million weddings were scheduled to take place last year from November to December alone, generating almost $4‌5 billion for the wedding industry compared to nearly $31 billion in 2019.

Today, ordinary individuals splurge on weddings to marry like celebrities and post #GramWorthy pictures. Millennials seek bespoke and personalised events and want to make a style statement with the perfect outfit, the perfect location, and the perfect picture. This quest for perfection in the age of social media where everything is documented for posterity translates into big business for wedding professionals across the country, inflating the price of an average wedding. Bollywood’s influence on weddings is also on the wane as an increasing number of millennials and Gen Z look to the West and social media for inspiration.

Destination weddings have become increasingly popular among young couples looking to offer novel and unparalleled experiences to their guests. Be it within the country or abroad, an increasing number of brides and grooms are choosing to wed in exotic destinations. Whether it is the snowy slopes of Zermatt, scenic canals of Venice, or the casino square of Monte Carlo, destination weddings have taken the world by storm and Indians are leading the way. International destinations, particularly Turkey, Thailand, and Qatar are wooing luxury wedding planners in India to promote their properties and lure wealthy Indians clients. Currently, India boasts one of the fastest growing numbers of individuals with a net worth of $100 million or more. In 2022, the number of billionaires in the country increased to 161 from 145 in 2021. According to a Knight Frank study, this figure is likely to rise further to 195 by 2027. Similarly, the number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals in the country (people whose net worth is more than $30 million) is likely to surge 58 per cent by 2027. In 2023, the population of high-net-worth individuals (people who have an asset value of $1 million or more) stood at 7,97,714 and this figure will surge to 16,57,272 by 2027. With the rise of an aspirational middle-class, an increasing number of Indians are willing to spend big bucks on weddings to ape the wealthy. Such individuals are happy to take loans or invest in SIPs to host destination weddings. In addition to this, the nouveau riche in small towns across the country are eager to host weddings in exotic destinations abroad.

Last year, Turkey emerged as one of the most popular destinations for million-dollar Indian weddings. Bali and Thailand also remain popular for lavish celebrations among Indian couples. For instance, Thailand hosts around 400-500 Indian weddings every year. In order to boost tourism and attract rich Indians, Thailand, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka last year declared visa-free entry for Indians till May 2024. This is a huge incentive for Indians hosting destination weddings in a foreign country as they need to fly their guests to the destination which involves a good deal of visa-related paperwork beforehand – another hassle for wedding planners who need to manage countless other things as well. Besides Sri Lanka, Bali, and Thailand, other popular countries for Indian destination weddings are Oman, Dubai, Portugal, and Italy. Some of the most popular locales in Europe for Indian destination weddings are Paris, Budapest, and Rome, Tuscany, Lake Como, and the Amalfi Coast.

However, domestic destinations are likely to witness faster growth compared to international destinations due to logistics and operational factors. Many wedding planners say it is more convenient to host weddings within the country than abroad. When it comes to destination weddings within the country, Jaipur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Goa, and Mahabalipuram are popular destinations. Alibaug, Karjhat, Siliguri, and Lonavala also hosted many weddings during the post-pandemic period. Coorg is also gradually emerging as a destination for weddings.

Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Indians to wed within the country instead of heading overseas. This nudge to the wealthy will go a long way in boosting India’s economy since weddings mean big business and choosing a domestic destination will ensure economic spin-offs by redirecting funds from destination weddings abroad. Modi’s “Wed in India” call will ensure that India’s booming wedding industry contributes further to the economy. Celebrities like Katrina Kaif-Vicky Kaushal, Alia Bhatt-Ranbir Kapoor, Kiara Advani-Sidharth Malhotra, and Parineeti Chopra-Raghav Chaddha, have all hosted their wedding in India. Numerous families have already started choosing destinations within the country to celebrate the cultural and natural diversity of the country instead of scouting for locations abroad. Rerouting destination weddings to the country from overseas can yield a substantial economic dividend by tweaking a trend that has only just begun. This will also help boost tourism infrastructure in the country as more and more venues emerge at popular destinations.

Weddings these days are no longer just about traditions, they are status symbols and a way for couples to showcase their individual preferences and tastes while celebrating their union in the most extravagant way they can. Luxury helps set them apart from the crowd as wedding planners go above and beyond to offer unique and personalised experiences. Whether the trend of such larger-than-life celebrations can sustain will depend on several factors. As long as the economy stays on track, hefty price tags will not deter affluent Indians looking to wed in style. Indians from all strata of society like to splurge on weddings and as far as they are concerned, the party is just getting started.

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