New Delhi: We had a runaway bride once,” says wedding planner Amrish Pershad, in a brief lull between answering his phone. “Well, almost. She was absolutely fine, and then on the day, while she was having her make-up done with all the aunts and uncles there, she suddenly panicked. So I chatted with her for half an hour—I’d spent a lot of time with her by then, I’d even chosen her outfit—and I talked her round in the end.”
In his dusty storage barn in Chattarpur farms, Pershad stands waist-deep in cardboard boxes and talks about his career with the enthusiasm of a child in his grandparents’ attic. A gold-painted sofa, a cardboard cutout of a pirate, and a bunch of elegant willow branches protrude at odd angles from the gaudy jumble through which he rummages. “I especially like these candles,” he says, fishing out a 2ft-long, spindle-thin taper bent slightly by the thick June heat of the barn. “Only I use these. People see them and they say, ‘Okay that’s Amrish’.” He smiles, “I don’t tell anyone where I get them. That’s a secret. But I will supply them to friends as a special favour.”
Finishing touch: Amrish Pershad at a stage for a wedding in a hotel in New Delhi. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Pershad is a busy man. The two Chattarpur warehouses, sandwiched between a caterer and a furniture maker, act as his storerooms outside the winter wedding season. In a couple of weeks, the fake-gilt pillars that were propped against the dirty walls will be cleaned, and the giant mirrors, thick with dust, will be polished; 40,000 sq. ft of fabric will be sorted and selected. But at that moment, the barns resembled Sleeping Beauty’s castle as found by the prince; bronze-painted, wiry chandeliers hung in a tangled mass from the rafters like the forest of briar in the fairy tale. “At the moment, all my staff are in the villages,” Pershad said, “But they’ll be coming back soon from Kolkata and Bengal.”
A wedding by Pershad is likely to set you back by at least a few lakh rupees. He is one of the best in the business, with a list of clients and event locations to prove it and the film sets of Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding to his name. Working with a team of more than 40 people, he works out every detail of the big day, from the bride’s clothes to the colour of the tablecloth, to the length of the candles. Though wedding planners have been commonplace in the US for years now, they’re a relatively new phenomenon in India, he says.
Wedding planner Amrish Pershad talks about his booming profession and the big changes he’s seen in Indian weddings since he tied the knot
“Ten years ago, it didn’t exist as a profession: people planned their own weddings within the family. But people now don’t have the time; they are very busy, working 14 or 15 hours a day.” Over the past 20 years, Hollywood has popularized the notion that a professional can take all the hassle out of the big day, Pershad says, with films such as Father of the Bride and Jennifer Lopez’s The Wedding Planner becoming big hits.
In 2006, Pershad, who had already been working as a florist for around 10 years, took the plunge and struck out on his own as a wedding planner. “The concept of a wedding planner was not heard of then,” he says. “My parents thought it was suicidal, they thought I was going crazy. But I said, ‘Just give me a year’.” The business took off and now averages 200 weddings a year. Today, Pershad estimates, there are fewer than 10 dedicated wedding planners in India, but the number is growing as quickly as the demand.
And that demand extends to every detail of the celebration. Pershad’s clients don’t just want luxurious sets and exotic flowers; they ask for themed weddings, departing from the traditional Indian motifs in favour of contemporary decor. Pershad says that although the mehndi ceremony tends to be fairly traditional, themes such as “the British Raj” have become increasingly favoured for the sangeet and, increasingly, the ceremony itself. Imitation “Victorian” urns, and colonial-era trellises and florals are the fashion now as young couples embrace the Indo-Western look. Pershad has been asked to organize male strippers for Mumbai hen nights, and 13th and 16th birthday parties for teenagers who want to book out glamorous bars at Manray or Lap, and have mocktails created for their school friends.
As Pershad was putting the final touches to a colonial-themed wedding in Delhi’s Taj Palace hotel, things were running 2 hours behind schedule. The previous party had not moved out on time and Pershad’s team had less than 4 hours to transform the hall.
Shah Jahan hall is the venue for most of Delhi’s big business conferences. It is grand in proportion, but has the vaguely jaundiced, soulless quality of most conference halls. Pershad was transforming it into a tropical Arcadia, a set from a Bollywood version of Brideshead Revisited. The Victoriana faux wrought-iron pavilion was hung inside and out with ropes of orchids, strung deftly together with invisible threads into a waterfall of pink and white blooms. A huge fountain pretending to be made of bronze burst with orange and pink lilies, and white trellises propped against the wall were artistically wound with ropes of greenery to look like ivy. Pershad stood in the middle of the chaos with his mobile phone grafted into one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other, revolving slowly and giving orders alternatively into each device.
At the edge of the room, the bride’s family milled about nervously asking questions and watched his every move. They needn’t have worried; Pershad had worked through personal crises, inclement weather and terrorist attacks. In a couple of hours, he would move on to the next venue, to start the set-up for his second wedding that day. Suddenly, the overhead ballroom lights went down, and soft pink and orange spots replaced them, disguising the cables and the spray-paint stains, and transforming the hall into the kind of opium-fuelled dream landscape Coleridge might have conjured. “You see,” Pershad said, gesturing about him, “It’s all come together now. I never panic.”
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