Over the past few months, India has witnessed four big celebrity weddings: Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli, Sonam Kapoor and Anand Ahuja, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, and Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas. Although each wedding received extensive media coverage, fans were kept waiting before they could catch a first glimpse of the happy couples. The eagerness to know about these weddings could be attributed in large part to the couples’ star power. But it also stems from more than just the desire to behold an extravagant celebration of the solemnisation of love.
These four weddings became objects of desire, emulation and amazement because they are about something familiar and yet something new, something Indian and global, real but also curated. The celebrations by all four couples appeared to be an attempt to signal their status as cultural ambassadors of a modern, increasingly global India. This was communicated not only through the careful choice of clothes but also via felicitous displays of affection and intimacy.
Love, laughter and fun
On November 22, author Taslima Nasreen commented on the pictures of a laughing Padukone at her wedding ceremony, arguing that they represented a welcome change from the patriarchal image of the tearful, vulnerable bride. Only a few days later, Chopra shared pictures from her mehendi and wedding ceremony at which she was seen enjoying a hearty laugh. Likewise, a popular video from the Sonam Kapoor-Anand Ahuja wedding in May showed the couple transform what is typically a solemn ceremony of exchanging garlands into a more affectionate and lovable one, as they giggled and laughed.
As real and heart-felt as these images of intimacies surely were, the strict control these couples exerted over the dissemination of the images and videos cannot be ignored. At all four weddings, the couples reportedly asked their guests to either refrain from taking pictures or sign non-disclosure contracts. Only later did they release official pictures on their Twitter and Instagram accounts, which depicted them in rather specific modes of affection – love, fun, laughter.
Arguably, this sort of control over the flow of information was undertaken to curate an image of the couple that they believe will appeal to a modern, global narrative of love and intimacy. According to this narrative, the couple “own” their love story and display their excitement to be with each other, while their families, an otherwise integral part of Indian marriages, recede somewhat into the background. Seen in this light, the secrecy and privacy represent more than a plea to be let alone. Rather, they serve to ensure that their love story remains appealing to a global sensibility of interpersonal love.
The wedding project
Wedding aesthetics are an important medium through which couples communicate a story of romance, global leanings and Indian authenticity. A key aspect of wedding aesthetics is the “look” of the bride and groom, which constitutes a statement of both social status and personal identity. In these weddings, the brides clearly revealed the importance of Indian sensibility by prioritising traditional shades of red for their wedding day (and in a bold statement, ditching the “safe” beige or gold, one of the grooms, Ranveer Singh, too wore the colour red), and adorning traditional weaves for at least one of the wedding events. Since these brides (and grooms) also have a global appeal, palpably non-Indian elements (adorning gowns for wedding receptions) were included in their “looks” as well.
These “looks” were also used to push the boundaries of traditional wedding norms. For example, Anushka Sharma wore an eye-popping neon pink and blue ensemble for her mehendi ceremony, in contrast to the traditional yellow and green, while the theme of Kapoor’s mehendi party was the colour white. At their wedding reception, Ahuja combined the traditional bandhgala with sneakers, as did Padukone, when she ditched her high heels for white trainers. Couples’ sartorial choices also played a role in showcasing their intimacy and togetherness – for example, when Padukone and Singh matched all their wedding outfits as well as their airport “looks”.
Another important aspect of wedding aesthetics is the size and venue of the wedding party itself. Three of the four couples opted to eschew Indian tradition by restricting their guest lists to close family and friends, thereby ensuring their weddings were private affairs. These decisions certainly marked a tilt towards the wedding sensibilities of a Western audience.
The weddings destinations also spoke to the desires and experiences of a global India – Padukone and Singh chose Lake Como in Italy while Sharma and Kohli went for the vineyards of Tuscany. Nevertheless, the couples were careful not to forget their cultural heritage. Padukone flew in chefs from India to prepare authentic South Indian cuisine and served it on banana leaves, as is customary for South Indian dining aesthetics. Sharma and Kohli made sure their guests danced to Punjabi dhols in the Tuscan villa.
Conversely, Chopra selected the Umaid Bhawan palace in Jodhpur as the backdrop for her Christian and Hindu wedding, thereby placing the Indian element front and centre in her multicultural wedding. Among the four, the Kapoor-Ahuja wedding conformed most closely to the ideals of an authentic Indian wedding. Yet, even Kapoor introduced a few changes – wearing a kaftan for her wedding reception rather than an elaborate gown, and promoting the trend of wearing trainers with formal wear, which has already gripped the Western fashion world.
It’s clear, then, that these weddings hold more stories than those that immediately meet the eye.
Parul Bhandari is a sociologist at the University of Cambridge who researches wedding cultures, marriage trends, gender, family and social class.