Confessions of a wedding planner
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Strings of hydrangeas and peonies at the entrance, shaped like a tunnel, gave way to scarlet roses dotting a verdant landscape within. A specially designed perfume of mogra lingered in the air, even as a saxophonist serenaded guests. An assortment of 500 lanterns, 5,000 tea lights and thousands of mirchi lights filled the evening sky, and a moon globe peeked out of a tree. Early this year, Trishya Screwvala, daughter of Ronnie Screwvala, founder and chief executive officer of UTV, married Suhail Chandhok at the Royal Western India Turf Club in Mahalakshmi, Mumbai. The man behind the arrangements was Punit Jasuja, a 42-year-old creative entrepreneur based in Delhi. This wedding planner’s work requires him to wear multiple hats: be a scenographer, as well as a conductor who synchronizes the chaos inherent in an Indian wedding. Add to that his personal flamboyance, with which he waves his magic wand to create an enchanted forest of sorts, like the one at the Turf Club this January.
Jasuja grew up in Chicago, studied at the London School of Economics, and worked in both London and New York before moving to New Delhi in 2010. He runs Punit Jasuja Productions, an events and interiors company, and also owns Second Floor Studio, a design retail outfit operating out of Delhi’s hip Shahpur Jat.
“I consistently threw fabulous parties and people said you have to do this for a living. Somebody dragged me into doing a wedding and that’s how it began,” recalls Jasuja. “At the end of the day, it’s the experience that people take away. When a guest walks into a wedding, I don’t want them to say, ‘Oh look how much money they’ve spent’. I want them to feel more elegant in their sari, stand taller, speak softer and feel taken care of. That’s what the money is spent for.”
Jasuja has organized destination weddings in France, Italy, the US and Indonesia and is one of the most sought-after planners in the country today. He gives the low-down on what goes into the making of an elegant and magical wedding.
1. Listen between the lines
“The first thing we do when a project comes to us is to understand what it is that the client wants. Do they want to create the most rocking nightclub or the most magical fairy tale or are they looking to simulate a royal affair?” He goes straight to the bosses: the bride and the groom. “If they are happy, that sets the tone for the rest of the wedding festivities.”
2. Create intimacy within abundance
There’s more to designing the interiors than plopping the mandap in the centre, the bar in a corner and lining the food buffet tables, especially when the space is expansive and the guest list touches 2,000.
The trick is to create smaller spaces within a larger space.” At the Screwvala wedding, Jasuja created multiple pockets, differentiated by music, décor, dining and cocktail areas. His focus is on movement and flow rather than abrupt enclosures. “I designed it such that you had to meander through the (Turf Club’s) Members Enclosure to fully discover what was happening there,” he adds. There were beautiful niches along the way to lounge and to mingle. “The point is that even if the venue is large, you should feel like you have a moment that belongs to you. It’s about keeping the guests entertained throughout the experience.”
3. Work with intangibles: light, music, scent
Celebrated architects such as Peter Zumthor and Tadao Ando have spent most of their careers talking about designing with elements like light, air, water; elements that are tactile and sensorial. A wedding arrangement—an ephemeral architecture of sorts—calls for the same principles. For instance, in accordance with his clients’ wishes, Jasuja often creates a scent specific to each wedding. “But we’re careful not to use it near the food.” Jasuja also uses music to dictate the progression of the evening. “You could have mellow jazz to welcome guests, switch to something more upbeat during cocktail hour, and post-dinner you want a jam session because you want the party to take off.”
4. Make it personal
Trishya and Suhail gifted a book of love poems to all their guests. Jasuja incorporated that gesture and installed a mirror that ran the entire length of the dining area, with quotes from the book hand-painted on it. “What we do has to be inspired by the couple’s journey,” he says.
In March last year, Jasuja designed a wedding for the family that owns Jindal Steel & Power. To complement who they were, Jasuja used steel as a running motif in the landscape of the venue—in the backdrop, table settings, vases and stools.
“At each wedding, everything is customized based on who the family is. It’s not like we have a bag of wedding templates that we pull stuff out from.” Jasuja aims to tap into the personal history of a family. “Imagine if the family had time to put the wedding together in their backyard. What would it look like? What personal touches would it have? Even though I’m hired help, my job is to be an extension of the family, to make sure that khatir (hospitality) and khairiyat (well-being) are kept in mind.”
5. ‘Khatir’ and ‘khairiyat’ is not a to-do list
Jasuja doesn’t like it when hospitality is reduced to a to-do list. “We forget that traditions are meant to convey the joy of a very personal celebration. Not that I want you to have fun because I gave you one box of laddoos, you’re also going to get three bangles for the sangeet, and when you leave, you’ll get a hamper.” Jasuja worries that when people get caught up in checklists, gestures lose their meaning. He often holds back his clients from going overboard. “Mothers go crazy all the time. I have to tell them, slow down, you have a long way to go. There will be anniversaries and baby showers and Diwalis to express their joy.”
6. Surprises and gestures make for good memories
Jasuja has organized two weddings for the royal family of Khimsar, in 2012 and 2016. At the 2012 wedding, the guests found a kite-shaped invite next to their pillow, a night before the wedding, that said, “Come join us to fly the skies tomorrow.” The next day, at lunch, children from Khimsar village were flying kites and, soon, the guests joined in. “I had gentlemen come up to me saying, ‘I haven’t flown a kite in at least 15 years. Thank you so much’,” Jasuja recalls.
7. Every wedding has a bridezilla: deal with it
Jasuja admits that having to deal with flying tempers is part of his job profile. “It’s not that they are always the bridezillas or a mother or uncle-in-law who’s gone crazy. It’s a stressful time. Emotions and money are involved. There are unspoken dreams that everyone wants to fulfil at their daughters’ or sons’ weddings. When you look back on it, they are small, insignificant issues. But in the moment, they are important. It’s my job to make sure I fulfil these expectations as best as I can.”
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