Coronavirus: Indian wedding industry facing uncertain future

Indian matchmaking platform Shaadi.com has organised two online weddings so far - a third has been finalised for Friday - and has been getting a "steady stream of requests" for similar ceremonies. PHOTO: SHAADI.COM
Indian matchmaking platform Shaadi.com has organised two online weddings so far - a third has been finalised for Friday - and has been getting a "steady stream of requests" for similar ceremonies. PHOTO: SHAADI.COM

The couple had been counting down the days to their April 19 wedding at a resort near the Jim Corbett National Park in north India. Hotel rooms had been booked, the gifts bought and the 300-strong guest list had been finalised.

"Everything was planned and taken care of," said Mr Sushen Dang, a Toronto-based 26-year-old market analyst, who was to wed Ms Keerti Narang, 25, a make-up artist from Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh.

"Corbett was going to be an altogether different experience, amid nature and with colourful setups," he added.

But the Covid-19 pandemic threw a spanner in the works, forcing them to call off the wedding around mid-March. "We had no clue what to do next," Mr Dang told The Straits Times from Mumbai, where he is staying with his parents. That was when one of his friends told him about an online wedding initiative launched by Indian matchmaking platform Shaadi.com for couples who wanted to get married during India's lockdown.

While the couple had been legally married in court in February, the idea of an online wedding appealed to them: it would be a substitute for the wedding celebration they would miss and it would still occur on April 19, a date deemed auspicious for the couple.

And so the wedding went ahead on April 19 as scheduled - but online - with Mr Dang in his wedding clothes logging in from Mumbai and with Ms Narang appearing in her finery from Bareilly, more than 1,400km away.

About 300 guests, including a hired musician and the Hindu priest who led the ceremony, crowded Zoom's virtual room. The ceremony was also streamed live on Facebook and has collected more than 264,000 views.

Online weddings have become an option for Indians who had expected to marry this year but are being forced to reconsider their plans. As an example, 12 Muslim couples in the state of Madhya Pradesh also got married amid the lockdown on April 17, through a video conference led by a religious official.

"A wedding is the single biggest day of their lives for a lot of people and many were heartbroken to have their plans derailed," Mr Adhish Zaveri, the director of marketing for Shaadi.com, told The Straits Times. "We thought of offering a way for people to get married without leaving their homes but with the same level of emotions and celebration," he said.

The firm has organised two online weddings so far - a third has been finalised for Friday - and has been getting a "steady stream of requests" for its "Weddings From Home" initiative.

This type of initiative might offer some hope, but weddings in India are unlikely to reclaim their famed glitz and scale any time soon.

 
 

Social distancing norms are likely to curtail the number of attendees at such events beyond the lockdown period and the prolonged economic downturn is bound to keep weddings less glamorous, at least in the near future.

"Nobody has a sense of when they will be able to do a large-scale wedding again," added Mr Zaveri.

The Indian wedding industry, valued at more than $70.8 billion annually, has been hit especially hard. Mr Piyush Goyal, a wedding planner based in Agra, used to organise about 30 big-ticket weddings every year with budgets running up to 10 million rupees (S$187,200) for each ceremony and "countless" other lower-budget affairs.

But this year, he organised only three weddings - all in January. An anniversary party on March 8 was the last event he planned.

"Since then, I have had to cancel six weddings," said Mr Goyal, the co-founding partner of Attractive Celebration Eventz, adding that he has no hope for a revival this year.

"Clients are unwilling to discuss anything when I call them to check on their plans."

This situation has even forced him to reconsider his business and explore the idea of setting up a grocery, saying: "People can't do without food, can they?"

 
 
 

The weddings he normally organises would generate employment for around 200 people, including florists, decorators, musicians, dancers and waiters.

Mr Vineet Bhatt, 23, who played the dhol, a double-headed percussion drum, at some of these weddings, earned around 800 rupees per event. The last wedding he performed at was on March 12.

Having been out of work for nearly two months, his family of drummers in Delhi are now staring at a bleak future.

"We have food rations left for just another two or three days and no savings at all," Mr Bhatt said.

They hope things will begin looking up soon, as the wedding season in north India ends in July and recommences in November. They are also exploring the idea of starting a small business, perhaps a pushcart to sell lassi.

Mr Dang and Ms Narang, meanwhile, are hoping to compensate for the wedding they missed with a big bash for their first anniversary next April. "Hopefully, things will have returned to normal by then," said Mr Dang.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2020, with the headline 'Indian wedding industry facing uncertain future'. Print Edition | Subscribe