Thursday, May, 30,2024

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Grand weddings are the de rigeur now, even in proper middle-class families. Curated by event managers and fuelled by never-before income levels, each neighbourhood shaadi looks like something out of the pages of a desi Vogue. All of which I love. Except for the wedding photographs, which I have started hating with a vengeance. Let me explain.

Wedding photos are meant to be recorded memories of an occasion which is both personal and social at the same time. Admittedly, the bride and the groom are the stars of the ceremony but a wedding primarily celebrates the social contract into which they have entered - with the whole star cast of relations and friends - not just all “supporting”, mind you. Decades later, one is supposed to look at wedding photos to reminisce about the event and remember the people and the times those were, the smiles and tears and innuendo and backbiting and love and excitement and ennui - the whole shebang during the byah.

But what do I find when I see the wedding photos today?
I see only a heavily curated & made-up couple straight out of a film set, in colour-coordinated designer lehenga and sherwani, with an equally colour-coordinated ensemble of relatives and friends, merely like props or a set of extras. Each one of them is a clone of the other, who in turn is a poor copy of the latest Instagram influencer or a film star. Photo after photo has everyone wearing the same plastic smile throughout the function, standing in front of an extremely photogenic set, perfect to a T. I have actually been to a wedding where the groom had the exact same smile pasted on his face in ALL the photos.

All! It was almost like the same face had been somehow pasted onto each and every photo of 3 days of the ceremony. The family photos are like a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film poster –regalia dripping out, more at a place in the hallway of a decadent palace, staring down at you.

'Candid’ photos are another story altogether. One finds all guests always showing their pearlies in that Botoxladen formality. The dinner has exotic dishes laid out while coiffuredhaired baaratis and gharaatis are gingerly holding their neat plates, never breaking the pose. Ritual photos have all HAHK written over them. Less said about the horrors of pre-wedding shoots, the better.

Looking at life from my vantage point of a middle-aged “WhatsApp Unkil”, I cast my mind some three decades back, before the advent of digital photography. It was the time when all the photos of the whole wedding were contained in a couple of slim, sometimes tacky and garish looking, albums in ungainly sizes. These photos were a careful selection from the hard work of usually a lone wolf photographer (or two) from the neighbourhood “studio” who mostly knew many people amongst the guests as well as the hosts. He kept lurking around on the periphery of all proceedings, lugging a heavy camera with a flashlight. We were still aeons away from the Instagram fever and the photos existed mainly to dutifully record the long & complicated rituals, yes - the carefree, non-choreographed dances too - while people were almost incidental to the whole show.

In fact, in many cases, even the bride and groom were carelessly relegated to the sidelines of the frame to showcase more important buzurgs of the families. And the candid photos? It was a treasure to savour for years to come. In one, there was an aunt stuffing a rasgulla into her lopsided mouth, barely holding her laughter. In another, the groom was wearing the heaviest kajal courtesy of his bhabhi, looking like he has been in a fight, complete with a black eye. There you could see a young wisp of a girl with no pretence of any make-up but dreamily holding on to her homemade lehanga. The antics of a truant mare while the groom waited to get on were recorded in another. A sulking foofaji, the star attraction of every Indian wedding, was caught exercising his powers, surrounded by placating relatives. And who can forget those series of photos of the milani ceremony or the pheras, all similar apparently, each one barely registering some infinitesimally small yet seemingly important progression in the rituals?

These were all real pictures, with real people and real emotions, with no pretence of being picturesque for the heck of it. Those are the photos I long for.

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