The film opens on the façade of a lavish Rajasthani palace flanked by lush gardens. The camera takes you inside where a bride, adorned in a gem-studded lehenga, descends a spiral staircase.
The groom, wearing a bright red pagdi, waits in front of an open door. The camera pans across the decadent grounds behind him, to focus on the fanfare of an outdoor wedding reception and the sound of a shehnai grows louder.
Later, in a quiet corner, the father of the bride sheds a soft tear and the daughter's mehendi-embroidered hand wipes it away.
The couple in this film are real, so are the tears, the pandit and his shlokas. It's the modern, professional avataar of the traditional wedding video.
The film has all the makings of a big budget Bollywood film, unfortunately for the director, it is not meant to be seen by more than a handful of close friends and family of the couple. But this anonymity doesn't worry the filmmaker.
Delhi-based Koval Bhatia is one of the new breed of filmmakers, who are side-stepping the slow trajectory of documentary film making and using their cinema degrees to breathe new life into the traditional long-winded wedding films.
After completing a film making course at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi, Bhatia worked with a production house creating music videos, marketing programs and corporate films before turning her camera to weddings in 2010. She now runs an exclusive wedding film production house Amour Wedding Films with a team of 15 film makers and camera crew. In November, Bhatia is due to shoot five weddings and is generally booked by couples nine months prior to the wedding at charges anywhere between Rs1-3 lakh per day.
“Everyone is happy at a wedding. They are more fun to shoot than corporate films because you have real people being honest in front of the camera. There are no professional actors, no retakes and no scripts,” she says, adding, “Logistically, it's a nightmare. Coordinating with hundreds of guests in the midst of a wedding and making sure they aren't awkward in front of a camera is a task.”
The new-age wedding film business is no amateur stint. The wedding filmmakers offer a standard package that includes a 90-second trailer, a seven to 10-minute highlight film with key bits from the ceremonies and a full-length, 25-minute documentary. Everything is shot in HD with multiple cameras and using professional lights. The editing is done with the same software that is used for feature films and includes music chosen by the couple. The final film is delivered to the newlyweds about two months after the wedding.
Anand Rathi, former investment banker and co-founder of Knot in Focus, a ‘candid’ wedding film production company, says it’s a fine balance between capturing a memory and making an art film. His camera crew is experienced, having worked in Bollywood and television productions. They set up what Rathi calls a “guerrilla filming strategy” to capture the “picture-perfect” wedding.
A team scouts the location before the wedding party arrives. On the big day, cameras are set up to capture the couple and crowds from varying focal lengths and angles, questions are prepared to drive an interview and a plot emerges from the footage caught on tape. The crew communicates over walkie-talkies and a crane or helicopter is called in to get a convincing 'top shot', in case the wedding in an outdoor affair. The machinery works cohesively to capture the larger than life scale of the wedding if that is what the client wants. Most often, the brief is simply romance. “A real Indian wedding has all the chaos of a Bollywood set. But if you look into the viewfinder, it’s a magical frame from a Karan Johar film,” he says.
The business plan
Zara Chowdhary, screenwriter and producer at The Wedding Filmmer, was struck with the idea of starting a wedding film company at her own wedding in 2010. “Our friends shot a few video clips with handheld cameras and put it together in a four-minute short film. It was more intimate than the entire typical three-hour documentary from the videographer we hired,” she says.
When Zara and husband Vishal Punjabi, who worked for over a decade making television commercials, decided to start the wedding film company, their colleagues were surprised. Two years later, the company receives over 1,500 requests from couples around the world but they choose to shoot only 15 films a year and charge Rs5 lakh a day. Punjabi also recently assisted with the wedding scene in the Karan Johar blockbuster Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.
“A film maker will make one documentary a year. We make 15 films a year after picking the most interesting subjects,” explains Chowdhary. “The Indian wedding lends itself to a lot of entertainment. Abroad, there is much curiosity about them. People want to know how there can be so many guests, what makes one spend so much and where one can find an elephant in Yorkshire?” laughs Chowdhary, whose films are a hit with the Non-resident Indians in the US, UK and Australia.
The rich get hitched
For a few budding film makers, the big-budget wedding films are a way to break in to the mainstream entertainment industry. However, the wedding industry, estimated to be worth Rs1,42,596 cr ($25.5 bn), is big enough for filmmakers to thrive. As per the Taj Group’s Wedding Barometer survey 2012, the industry is recession-proof and is growing at a staggering 25% per annum. While middle class families spend close to Rs19 lakh, an upper middle class family, on an average, spends Rs6 cr on each wedding.
Canada-based Jawad Mir, who runs production house Film Style Weddings, says the Bollywood themed wedding film isn’t restricted to Indian couples. “It is catching on because of the increase in fusion weddings. It isn’t just a cultural nuance but a fun experience since Indian weddings are big and bold,” he says.
Bhatia plans to introduce scripted storylines in her films after collaborating with the couple. “It will be a fun experience for the family to get-together and role play,” she says.
The only challenge is finding a story in each family that will temper the film and make it different from every other wedding. “We want to do this without having awkward aunties starring gawkily into the camera,” explains Bhatia. This is achieved by rubbing shoulders with relatives and cajoling friends of the bride and groom to wheedle out an anecdote that will string together the song and dance. All of it goes into the film with a big Bollywood style happy ending.