If you’ve been lapping up videos from recent celebrity weddings, one thing is clear: the sangeet is no longer a small, intimate affair with impromptu performances by friends and relatives. No longer is one member of the family who briefly took Shiamak Davar dance classes tasked with teaching everyone how to dance to Bole Chudiyan. Now, you hire a professional choreographer, fork out a few lakhs so that the aunty with two left feet and the uncle who shows off his naagin dance can shimmy like a Bollywood star.
They may not be able to get Beyoncé or Salman Khan but that doesn’t stop couples from putting up a show that boasts of everything from aerial performers to scores of backup dancers and lavish sets. Choreographers Swati Joneja and Sherry Sharma of Twirls and Thumkas say they have done their share of grand Bollywood-scale productions with 80 background dancers. “Our productions are like musicals, it’s not just back-to-back dances, we also use pre-recorded visuals, background dancers and props for the family. A lot of couples want grand entrances and we help them feel like stars,” says Joneja. The performances they put up range from 45 minutes to 2 hours.
Aayushi Jain, who got married earlier this year, kept aside a budget of Rs 3 lakh for the sangeet and interviewed close to six choreographers before narrowing it down to Twirls and Thumkas. “Our first meeting with them was about seven hours long, and we talked about how I met my husband and our story. We practised for a month and the team came to both Vizag, where I was, and Delhi, where my husband was, to help us,” she says.
Couples are not necessarily looking to replicate the experience of a Bollywood movie, but they want the evening to feel closer to the dhamaka and pizzazz of an awards show. Rishi Sharma, a choreographer whose company Balle Balle Baaliyan offers aerial acts where performers gracefully dance while dangling from ropes in the air, says production values have gone up along with expectations. “People are exposed to so many dance reality shows and Bollywood movies and they want their performances to be on that level. The aerial act that we offer costs about a lakh because of the technical challenges it involves,” he says.
Wedding planner Mukta Kapoor of Yuna Weddings agrees that the sangeet has become much more opulent. “People want to entertain the audience, and want something different, like flash mobs and pre-recorded videos.”
Another emerging trend is a themed evening. From a Bigg Boss themed sangeet (where the bride’s grandmother recorded Bigg Boss-inspired voice overs) to the ‘from retro to metro’ theme where the songs go from old to new, people want to stand out from the crowd.
People want to put on an enviable and entertaining evening, and with that desire comes a bigger budget. Nirmiti Jhaveri of Lights Camera Dance, a Mumbai-based wedding choreography studio, says they charge about Rs 6,000 per performance, and the average sangeet has at the very least 10 performances. She says, “There is definitely a hunger to be different. Every couple comes to us and says that they want something out of the box.”
Raghuvir Singh has been in the wedding business for 29 years. In that time, he has seen the meteoric rise of the sangeet as a significant event, so much so that his company BMP Weddings has started offering in-house choreography services. “Nowadays the sangeet is a very big deal. In the last five years, and the last 2-3 years in particular, it has blown up. Now, a choreographer for your sangeet is compulsory,” he says.
Think what you may about the manic quest to put on a show of a lifetime, it has opened up opportunities for dancers. Delhi-based Prabhu Kumar of More than Thumkas says, “The most money one can make as a dancer is through wedding choreography. If you teach dance at a studio or academy, they barely pay you. That’s why every dancer is becoming a wedding choreographer.”
Mehak Shahani, co-founder of wedding planning portal Wed me Good, says that the trend not only results in entertainment for those watching, but helps the families bond. She says, “At the end of the day, weddings are about two families coming together. What’s a better bonding experience than dance? The competitiveness between the girl’s side and boy’s side also adds an element of fun to it.”