The Big Fat Indian Wedding and the Hong Kong professionals who make extravagant, extraordinary ceremonies happen
With Indian nuptials evolving from home to hotel and chai to champagne, four Hong Kong-based specialists find their professional skills in demand to help turn the fairy tale dreams of couples into reality
When it comes to matrimony, the Greeks have nothing on The Big Fat Indian Wedding. From opulent celebrations up to five days long to the extravagance of lavish jewellery, bridal trousseau and gourmet cuisine, nothing is considered over the top.
The Indian wedding services market is worth US$54 billion a year, according to a 2014 KPMG report. According to the Big Fat Indian Wedding Market Survey 2018 by matrimony.com, in which 9,246 people all over India took part, 20.6 per cent of women said they were planning to spend between one million and two million rupees (US$14,250 to US$28,500) on their wedding, while 6.1 per cent intended to splash out two million to four million rupees.
Sakshi Salve’s The Big Indian Wedding: The Ultimate Guide for Dummies, first published in 2015, says weddings have moved from home to hotel, roses to cruises, chai (tea) to champagne, and from big dil (heart) to big bill. The most costly multi-day celebrations can feature fireworks, Bollywood actors, international music stars and thousands of guests.
With the allure of destination weddings on the rise, Indians are also splashing out on trips to exotic locales, inviting friends and relatives who travel from across the globe.
Such fairytale weddings require professionals to make them a reality. That has opened doors for a number of Hong Kong-based creative specialists, including luxury wedding photographer Ali Ghorbani, make-up artist Natasha Moor, wedding event stylist Mashu Hemnani, and visual content manager Rahul Idnani.
Ghorbani was bitten by the photography bug in 1989 at the Berlin Wall, with a 35mm camera in one hand and a hammer in the other. He was overwhelmed by strangers all around him laughing, crying and kissing.
“It was impossible to capture everything, so I tried to concentrate on the emotions of people, the details of the moment and the experience,” he says.
Ghorbani shot his first destination wedding in Mumbai in November 2014, when jewellery designer Payal Shah married diamond trade scion Nihar Parikh. More than 1,500 guests attended the three days of celebrations. When the wedding photos were uploaded onto social media, they became a sensation.
Ghorbani opened a Facebook account – Ali G Studios – in time to see praise for his work at another wedding, in Jaipur, Rajasthan. At that event, two elephants led the parade, the groom made an entrance on horseback, and Bollywood icon Salman Khan was the guest of honour.
News of Ghorbani’s personal touch spread quickly and soon he was photographing a Holi-themed wedding party, where the bride and groom were showered in myriad colourful powders.
Ghorbani says the 18-hour work days he puts in for Ali G Studios are exhausting, but he takes pride in his understanding of Indian culture. He makes sure he knows whether the bride and groom will perform the traditional walk around a sacred fire four or seven times, both of which are an option. He will also identify the families’ elders so he can give them appropriate respect, and be positioned for the shots he knows will count the most.
“When you go through that album with your clients and you see them wiping away tears, you know you’ve done a good job,” he says.
Today, Ghorbani also specialises in portraits and exclusive events, among which have been Hong Kong hotel the Grand Hyatt’s 25th anniversary and the Hong Kong unveiling of the Porsche Macan. He has also photographed Oscar winners Robert De Niro and Shirley MacLaine, and Bollywood heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan.
Make-up artist Natasha Moor worked in public relations and events marketing before returning to her first passion in 2012, dabbling in make-up for magazines and photo shoots. She later launched her career working in the business of matrimony.
“Having the power to not only make someone look good but feel beautiful is the most amazing feeling in the world,” she says.
Her initial challenge was convincing brides to trust a 23-year-old with one of the biggest moments of their lives. But when family members and friends liked what they saw, it wasn’t long before Moor was being whisked off to destination weddings in Oman, Florence, Tanzania and beyond.
“My favourite moment is when the bride’s mother walks in and stops to gasp at her ‘all grown-up’ little girl, dupatta [scarf] draped over her head, and both tear up. It’s so beautiful that it makes my own eyes brim. I brush it off with a ‘don’t ruin the make-up’ joke, so no one sees that I’m trying my best not to choke up and cry,” she says.
Moor has also launched her own brand – Natasha Moor Cosmetics – with a collection of 21 matte lipsticks, and runs an initiative called #DoMOOR to encourage others to do more for each other and the community.
Wedding event stylist Mashu Hemnani (no relation to this writer) started designing as a hobby. She later launched a specialised brand of wedding gifts and favours, Sarasa by Mashu, in 2003, which exhibited her flair for thinking outside the box. In recent years she branched out into wedding styling.
Her first large-scale event was a one-off for a friend in Hong Kong, but it made an impact. “It also made me realise that there was a niche market where the Indian community appreciated exquisite work. They were willing to pay for the service, but there was no one to provide it,” she says.
Hemnani’s most complex creation to date was a floating hot air balloon canopy. Getting 30 large balloons into a ballroom and hanging them all on a truss five metres (16 feet) high gave her the rush of a lifetime.
“I believe a styled event has to be a reflection of the personality of the host. With so much available online, many events look the same and I aim to go bold with a twist, rather than just borrowing ideas.”
Rahul Idnani began his career as a DJ at the age of 16. After taking courses in multimedia and animation, he was offered opportunities to manage entertainment events and founded Elite Entertainment in 2008.
Today, as a director and visual content manager, Idnani has taken Indian weddings to the next level with his LED wall designs and themed interactive LED acts for pre-wedding sangeet parties, customised interactive wedding websites, and the entertainment and artists he brings in to perform at weddings.
“I feel inspired by large-scale productions like Cirque du Soleil and The House of Dancing Water, and love what they create in terms of visuals,” he says. “I aim to give the same mind-blowing experience to the bride and groom on their special day.”
Idnani has gone on to receive contracts for the International Indian Film Academy Awards’ after party and private celebrity party, and has worked with stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar and Jacqueline Fernandez. He has also organised ground and technical support for R ’n’ B artists including Akon, Taio Cruz, Jay Sean and Flo Rida.
Idnani’s challenges are the long hours he works to ensure that timing, lighting and effects are all aligned, and the time-consuming changes when clients aren’t completely sure about what they want.
“But the applause makes it all worth it! At the ‘Rara wedding’ [the name given to the nuptials between Hongkongers Ravine Mahtani and Mira Uttamchandani], when the crowd went wild after the LED performances and visuals that we designed, I knew I had done better than even I believed I could. Who knows, maybe Bollywood isn’t such a far reach after all.”
Ghorbani, Moor, Hemnani and Idnani all worked on the Rara wedding, which was held in February this year in Bangkok. The nuptials featured the groom entering on a Batmobile, a 3D-motion butterfly creation, waterfall bars, LED visuals, and the gift of LED shoes to every guest.
Bride Serena Mahtani, née Mira Uttamchandani, says she couldn’t have asked for a better team for her wedding.
“Natasha is young but extremely gifted, and willing to try different looks so that when you reflect back on your wedding day you’ll have no regrets,” she says.
“Ali is the warmest person in the industry, and truly understands the chemistry between couples and how to get the best out of them at a shoot … Mashu is creative, organised and creates a spectacular fairy tale atmosphere like she’s working magic.
“I think Rahul must not have slept for three months before our wedding. He managed all the entertainment including our amazing website and there was not one thing during the wedding that he said he couldn’t do.”