The traditional Indian wedding, a chaotic mix of color, food, music and melodrama, has undergone a makeover, and spawned a new industry.
The marigolds are being replaced by orchids, the impromptu song and dance by professionally choreographed performances, folk songs have given way to the latest Bollywood remixes and the cuisine is Thai, Italian, Vietnamese, you name it. Then add signature cocktails, bespoke wedding stationary, live twitter updates and more.
The Indian wedding is getting bigger and fatter and the wedding planner presiding over it is now a key part. No longer the preserve of the super-rich, upper middle class Indians are also looking to outsource their big day to professionals, from online planners to hands-on coordinators, who promise a glitch-free event.
The stakes are high. In the top 15 cities of the country, people usually spend between 2 million rupees ($30,000) and 20 million rupees ($300,000) on three to five days of celebrations, and an estimated 10 million weddings take place every year. This makes it a $3 billion dollar market, according to industry experts. Add expenditure on clothes, jewelry and match-making services, and the Indian marriage industry is estimated at a whopping $40 billion.
"This is a recession-proof industry," said Himanshu Kapsime, founder of online wedding planning site shaadisaga.com. No wonder, Kapsime, an engineer from the top ranking Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, decided to quit his job with a US-based software development firm to start an online wedding solutions company last year.
"Everything is going online in India [from shopping to match-making], why not wedding planning," said Kapsime, adding that this lucrative but unstructured market needed a dose of the professionalism wedding planners could bring.
"There is no price transparency or standardization, the vendor quotes a price depending on the car you are driving," Kapsime told CNBC. He said that while his website offered lists of vendors such as photographers, make-up artists and banquet owners to choose from, it also offers a price guarantee and free backup in case of default.
Shaadisaga.com also has a blog on latest wedding trends and a storyboard of real wedding tales.
Darshana Bhanushali, 28, who is getting married in January, said having an online planner had reduced her stress by half.
"There is no waste of time," she said. "The planner presents a short list of options for wedding cards, etc and my fiancé and me just sit together once a week and take a decision. No running around."
And this service comes free as the online wedding planner makes their money by taking a commission from the vendors couples using the service hire.
It's not just the pressed-for-time young professionals who feel the need for a planner. Even parents of the bride and groom, who traditionally take care of all the wedding arrangements, are hiring full-time help to hand-hold them through the entire process.
"I wanted to enjoy my child's wedding," says Smita Singh, who started taking care of her son's wedding arrangements on her own, but found it so "painful" she hired a coordinator. This type of consultant works for a pre-determined fee, depending on the scale of the wedding.
Can you better that?
From organizing flash mobs and sourcing welcome notes for guests to recreating popular Hindi movie sets at the wedding venue, planners have to be full of ideas.
For example, Harpreet Bhatia founder of planmyoccasion.com designed a "wish wall" for one of his clients. As the guests greeted and blessed the newlyweds, the greeting line was streamed live on a digital platform. On another occasion he decorated a pick-up truck, wired it for a live band and hired a DJ, because the groom wanted to arrive at his wedding in a truck full of friends accompanied by loud music.
"A planner makes a wedding come alive. He or she is the chef of a wedding," says Shweta Acharya of Baraati Inc, who has already handled 15 nuptials, including four destination weddings, one of which was in Florence, in her first year of business.
November and December are one of the peak wedding periods in India, and Shweta and her team have worked 24/7 to handle the seven weddings she has on her books for the two months this year.
"We have to make sure that the fairytale wedding is delivered with flair so that the client is stress free" said Shweta, who took up wedding planning as a career after her brother got married and none of their close family members could be part of the wedding party because they were too busy with the arrangements.
While many are willing to add about 10-20 percent to their wedding bill for the chance to enjoy a day that still comes only once in a lifetime for most Indians, there are others who are still not comfortable with the idea.
Sticking to tradition
As the wedding planning industry has mushroomed, there have been plenty of stories of goof-ups and over-charging that has damaged its image. Besides, for some, seeking professional help for a child's wedding just doesn't seem in keeping with custom.
"We wanted the wedding to be more personalized, more traditional. Didn't want these planners running around with their walkie talkies," said Delhi-based Sangeeta Mathur, whose son got married in November. "There will be more chaos now, but what the heck, it's a wedding...it's all fun."