The couple dressed in Indian wedding regalia stands knee-deep in a lake, bouncing their shoulders to a Bollywood song. The groom then bumps his betrothed, loses his balance and topples into the water, finery and all.
It wasn’t an act. The video, shot ahead of the couple’s wedding and meant to evoke their romance, was an epic fail – at least at first. Then the clip turned into an Instagram sensation, amassing 13 million views.
“People started recognizing us at meetings, social gatherings, other weddings,” says Jyothi Lakshmi, the 26-year-old bride. “The fall was worth it.”
Middle-class India has a new obsession: pre-wedding videos. They’re extravagantly designed and choreographed, with music, dance routines and, often, movie-style sets. They can cost more than the honeymoon. Many are redolent with romance, while others turn disastrous. Some go viral on social media.
“Nobody wants to look at stiff, hours-long wedding videos of chanting priests and the couple doing saat pheras, seven circles around the holy fire,” said Gautam Swaroop, chief executive officer of Weddingz, a platform for wedding services. “These days, couples want to show off their cool factor.”
India’s wedding industry is gargantuan, with three million weddings in the season that ends this year in March and annual revenue of about $130 billion, according to Murugavel Janakiraman, founder & CEO of India’s largest online matchmaker, Matrimony.com. Many are week-long affairs with rituals, blingy outfits, diamond jewelry, dancing and feasting.
Some old mores are giving way to newer ones in the digital age. Pre-wedding shoots have soared in popularity as the liberalizing, youthful country intersects with a love of online video. These clips are popping up on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and homegrown platforms like Sharechat.
Many videos push the boundaries of creativity to stand out. In one, a groom twirls his bride in a sprawling dump, sending her hair, saree and pieces of garbage flying as a hovering drone captures the action. In another, a couple on a motorcycle soar over a truck in a thriller-style chase scene. The couples shoot everywhere – in public parks, in front of monuments as well as inside temples and gyms.
pre-wedding shoots – i’m getting this pic.twitter.com/Ynwf7Kxr6a
— Best of the Best (@bestofallll) October 27, 2022
Rajesh Dembla, a wedding photographer, saw the budding opportunity and started Sets in the City, a 7.5 acre plot in the suburbs of Mumbai with 50 fake venues including Venetian canals and Victorian cathedrals. He offers professional make-up artists, flashy outfits and lighting experts for as much as $1,000 for a day’s shoot. His venues are booked through the season.
Dheeraj Vijayan, who runs a firm called White Owl Weddings that produces videos for such ceremonies, said there’s pressure on photographers and choreographers to come up with fresh ideas. Many couples want to be “famous for a day,” he said.
Hey wedding photographers. Can you chill? Wtf is this pic.twitter.com/q7Qt6Dt326
— Siddharth Sai (@ssaig) May 12, 2020
One photographer in the southern Thrissur town hung upside down from a tree to get an original perspective on the couple-to-be. He was quickly dubbed “vavval,” or the bat, on the internet.
Param Patil, 32, a photographer based in Sholapur, recently shot a video where the couple staged a mock home invasion. An intruder, a foreigner, sneaks into the house and pushes the groom out of the frame, before the couple is merrily reunited.
While it’s mostly fun and frolic, it’s still India. Couples want to keep passionate scenes out of the sight of traditional relatives.
“One recent couple wanted a steamy video for their own circles and another boy-meets-girl love story to share with wider family,” said Patil. But the young couple came to their pre-wedding shoot with eight family members, zapping any hope for flirtation or passion. “The video was a dud,” Patil said.
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