Band Baaja but No Baaraat: Are We Ready to Move to the Big Fat Virtual Indian Wedding?

The season that was meant for most of us to bring out our inner Karan Johar(s) and eat gulab jamuns that we wouldn't have to make with what's in our refrigerators-- the season of the big fat Indian weddings — is now the season of social distancing.

The Coronavirus outbreak coupled with social distancing and in turn, the lockdown has resulted in a steady decline in the country’s wedding business. The future of the big fat Indian weddings is at stake.

“Our revenue has almost been at zero since March 1 with a total of 50 weddings being called off,” says Siddarth Sankar Mishra, co-founder of Singapore-headquartered Shaadi Dost. But what worries him more is the aftereffect of the lockdown.

The vendors, majority of whose sole livelihood depends upon the earning from the wedding season, have been hit. “Over 50 vendors in tie-ups with my company have been hit poorly and I fear, if we do not have the stipulated sum to pay them, how are we to re-establish the network?” says Siddharth.

While Shaadi Dost deals with small-budget weddings, Mumbai-based A Klass Apart (AKA) caters to a smaller crowd involving higher-budget, destination (including international) weddings.

Divya Chadha, the manager of AKA thinks “they are luckier” since not many weddings were lined up immediately, except those at the end of the year which is likely to be postponed in view of the pandemic.

It’s a consolidated belief that even if the lockdown is lifted, realistically the wedding market will take much more time to pick up, at least until the end of 2020. “Honestly, even if the lockdown is relaxed on the 3rd of May I think it would be very irresponsible for anyone to try and get married in May, June, July or even in August because right now we must follow the recommendations of health experts,” says Divya.

Sana Vohra, CEO and Founder of The Wedding Brigade, an end-to-end ecommerce wedding service provider, reiterates the same and believes that anyone intending to get married before the end of the year is “very irresponsible and from a health and safety point of view it’s a big risk”.

However, even as the situation stands to be grim, wedding planners have already figured out a Plan B: Digital weddings.

Many couples have taken to virtual vows, especially over Zoom calls. The pandemic has brought about a shift in ways marriages are being approached and carried out and wedding planners predict that this might continue even post the lockdown.

“Definitely there will be a change. See weddings are never going to die and weddings are one the biggest events in an Indian family,” says Divya adding, “So when you fall short of the services, what will happen is people will change the way they get married.”

However, the concept of a virtual wedding can take some time to seep into the minds as most Indians are big believers and big boasters of the big fat Indian wedding. A country that still holds on to the age-old tradition of hosting a mass gathering for over two to three days can't move to digital weddings overnight.

But the other question is if the social distancing rules need to be followed for the next year, is India well equipped with the required digital tools to conduct weddings online?

Siddarth thinks India has the capability to digitise certain wedding trends, it just needs to figure out the right tools to execute.

He thinks families can slowly start off with a system of RSVP models and the government can move towards building an online marriage registration system.

“This can also ensure social distancing if you start posting invites over e-mails or even WhatsApp invites,” says Divya adding, “And why not? there’s a new generation of individuals who won't mind hosting it online.”

“We can also use platforms like TikTok and Snapchat to create fun videos of the bride and groom, utilise the digital games to have guests entertained and sort of aspire to have all of it integrated to one platform,” says Siddarth.

There’s a need for Indian families to start embracing the app-culture as the AKA founder suggests that an online streaming of weddings is a good way to start with if couples are rushing to tie the knots during the quarantine.

“For that also there are a number of options like Zoom Premier, where for 15 $ (Rs 1144) a month, one can host a meeting of over 100 people, plus there are live streams where people can view the event in real-time,” she says.

This will also help the families to invite a larger number of guests as it will drastically reduce the cost incurred per guest in terms of flights, rooms and food. It will also help people who for a number reasons cannot be present physically to tune into your special day. Strategic planning of professional wedding planners and a tech back-up can even create virtual and picturesque backdrops for couples.

But when all of it comes to the implementation in the Indian wedding market, it’s about the ‘size’ of the event. After all, how many Indian weddings do we know that can wrap up quickly? And you wouldn't want to be on Zoom call for three days.

Wedding planners expect a surge in weddings after the lockdown rules are relaxed. But they suggest that families should stop caring about ‘shubh muhurats’ (auspicious time). “People need to throw out their wedding date because one can’t just wait for an auspicious date amidst a rush.”

While a shift from traditional to digital will take its time, meanwhile, Sana suggests that couples utilise this ‘luxury of time’ to indulge in more research in learning how to have their weddings carried out with more precision.

“Do more research about the fun parts of your wedding like, how do you want your bridal entry to be like, the flow of the events, make sure your investments are done in the right parts etc,” says Sana adding, “So it’s a great time to figure out who it is you actually want for your wedding and then act it out once the lockdown is over.”

The Wedding Brigade also has a WhatsApp group called the ‘Bride Tribe’, a team of brides whose weddings have been postponed, to morally boost each other. “It’s a virtual community, where they can talk to each other, share ideas, and help each other deal with this difficult time.”

Divya adds, “Use this time to really make sure that the wedding that you have after all this is over, is really about you.”

We won't be surprised if the next wave of wedding designs and outfits come with matching masks of their own.