Unions in the pandemic: What celeb weddings mean

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Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt are the latest star-pair to wed in the pandemic. Photo: Hype PR

The Covid pandemic transformed the world completely, and celebrity weddings, were an essential part of the two-year phase. For one, the lovebirds of showbiz could not wait as the situation was completely unpredictable, optimism remained the key to their romantically domestic ‘startups’ and pragmatism was chosen over social needs like celebration in style and big, fat social functions.

Marriages became as intimate as relationships in that sense, restricted to family and select friends. Pictures were given out socially too, mainly on social media. And as the (literal) viral fever ebbed, some couples even chose destination weddings, if for nothing else, because the dream locations added to the romance and meant locales that were less affected by the scourge and were thus safer for the couple as well as their selected guests.

For others, the venues were home and hearth, just like Alia Bhatt, who revealed that their wedding took place in their special spot, the balcony of her husband Ranbir Kapoor’s apartment, where they had spent five years of their courtship.

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“Today, surrounded by our family and friends, at home … in our favorite spot – the balcony we’ve spent the last 5 years of our relationship – we got married. With so much already behind us, we can’t wait to build more memories together … memories that are full of love, laughter, comfortable silences, movie nights, silly fights, wine delights and Chinese bites. Thank you for all the love and light during this very momentous time in our lives. It has made this moment all the more special.” Alia signed off as “Love, Ranbir and Alia.”

Very rightly therefore, the wedding, the ultimate one in the Indian entertainment world since the epidemic began, was about dreams not just for “Ralia” (as the media named this couple) but for the world’s normal souls as well. Such weddings fired everyone’s imagination by carting them into their own universe of fantasy, which looked at such occasions in diverse ways.

For one, when movie-watching in cinema halls, which is the prime focus of the Indian viewer, with family, loved ones and friends, was almost absent, a celebrity wedding proved to be a powerful alternative, if occasional, source of “feel-good” entertainment. Watching someone else’s dream world unfold, even on one’s mobilephones through reports and photos, was an excellent mood elevator.

The other major wedding during this phase was the Katrina Kaif-Vicky Kaushal marriage, held last December 9 in Rajasthan. The dreamy venue was Hotel Six Senses Fort Barwara in Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan. 120 was the number of guests—no small number, considering everything.

More intimate ceremonies, considering the situation, were organized by the others, like Varun Dhawan and Natasha Dalal, his long-standing girlfriend, who married last January 24, at an Alibag (three hours’ drive from Mumbai) resort. Originally planned as a five-day celebration for December 2019 (in pre-pandemic India), the wedding was a one-day affair thanks to the circumstances.

50 guests were taken by ferry from Mumbai’s Gateway of India to the nearby Mandva Jetty and then transported by private cars. The guest-list was exclusive: close school-friends and industry names like Salman Khan, Karan Johar and Vashu Bhagnani that were close to Varun and his father, director David Dhawan.

Yammi Gautam, in a surprise revelation, wed her 2019 Uri: The Surgical Strike director Aditya Dhar on June 4, 2021. This ceremony was completely private.

Other weddings that made lesser news were those of Dia Mirza (with Vaibhav Rekhi), Pranitha Subhash (with businessman-biker-entrepreneur Nitin Raju), controversial starlet Sana Khan (with bizman Mufti Anas Syed) and Evelyn Sharma (who wed her dentist beau, Tushaan Bhindi, Down Under where he resides), Kajal Aggarwal (with businessman and tech professional Gautam Kitchlu) and director Ali Abbas Sultan Zafar with girlfriend Alicia.

A huge celebrity was South star Rana Daggubati, who wed his Marwari interior designer girlfriend Miheeka Bajaj on August 8, 2020, bang in the middle of the first spurt and lockdown. The venue was his home-ground—Rama Naidu Studios in Hyderabad, named after his late paternal grandfather. In his case, most of the preparations, including decision on the costumes, were done online by the family members!

Dreams and visions

And so, the human mind had a lot to think about, be curious regarding, and even muse over on these celeb banns. For one, how were they going to manage differently in the pandemic? How and how much were the protocols followed and the risks tackled?

For another, how were the venues and costumes for the various ceremonies (including roka, mehendi, sangeet and whatever else) and jewelry decided? How much was the online part? How was the guest-list decided, especially when only 50 people, and later 100, were the permitted number? What did everyone wear, eat, drink, say and do?

Then, we had the ‘twisted’ parts: Would Salman Khan, for example, attend Katrina’s wedding? There was buzz that Deepika Padukone (who wed Ranveer Singh in late 2018) and Katrina Kaif would both be invited for Ranbir-Alia’s reception.

And both had been Ranbir’s former girlfriends, so would the respective parties be comfortable doing so, even if Alia was friends with both the actresses and was on great terms with the girls’ spouses—Ranveer Singh (her co-star in Gully Boy and the forthcoming Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani) and Vicky Kaushal (Raazi)?

As the followers of the couples dwelt on such vicarious aspects as well, they voraciously scanned the social media as well as other ‘sources’ for whatever dope could be found on each couple. With the surprise element coming in for both Katrina-Vicky (who have never done a film together) and Yammi-Aditya (their love story was well-hidden!), there was endless interest—no, make that thirst!—for info on how these and other couples first fell in love!

As the media dug deep, they came to know—not always for the first time, though!— that Varun and Natasha had first met when both were in school, at a music concert. Or Rana’s girl was not just his cousin’s friend but also lived close to him. Or Katrina’s statement on an episode of Koffee With Karan in which she expressed a desire to work with him, and Vicky’s pretending to faint when host Karan Johar (the man of the moment as he attended all the key weddings in Mumbai—of Vicky-Katrina, Varun and now ‘Ralia’!) told him this in a later episode.

There was also wishful thinking—can we replicate something of the fanfare in our own weddings? Can we afford such functions? Can we actually get to do such things, or even a tiny part of the lavishness, when we ourselves marry?

A business report on the subject hints and explains some of these aspects: Online consultations, venue visits, flexibility with dates, and the vendors’ vaccination status became top priority. And a significant chunk of customers laid great stress on cancellation and refund policies, though these ranked next to the more important vaccination status.

But, in the final analysis, celebrity weddings are all about human imagination often going into overdrive. Discussing the influence of the film industry on Indian marriages, cultural studies scholar Andrew Howe, in his essay, “Here Comes the (Bollywood) Bride”, had written, “Bridal rituals in Indian society hinge around families coming together and the preservation of cultural and patriarchal norms… Since 2000, cinematic depictions of marital unions have shifted somewhat—despite maintaining some of these patriarchal ideas—towards the ascendency of middle-class values and the negotiation of global Indian identity.”

And very truly, films like Hum Aapke Hain Koun!… (1994) and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) had a big role in changing real-life weddings. On the NRI front, there was also Monsoon Wedding (2002) that was also, in a way, a catalyst to such change. After all, the film, in its own modest way, not only tributes the former two epics but also was a success in India.

And there must be some significance to the admittedly unconfirmed story that Katrina and Vicky have sold the video rights of their wedding to a leading international OTT platform for 80 crore rupees.

And to end on a colorfully amusing note, The Indian Express recently reported something extremely riveting, that while media coverage of the ‘Ralia’ wedding was occupying headlines and dominating social media, a unique Bengali-style wedding, where life-sized dolls of Ranbir and Alia were married to each other following traditional rituals, was held in Kolkata by a group called the Ballygunge 21 Pally Cultural Club. Entrepreneurs and some personalities of the Bengali film industry also co-organized this event, and fans also played the parts of Ranbir’s cousins Karisma Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor Khan at the wedding.

Fan indulgence? Definitely, but it signifies how important such weddings have now become as a part of our psyche.

 

 

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