NEW DELHI R.K. Chudawala, a diamond merchant in New Delhi, added sparkle to his wedding last year by hiring top Bollywood stars to attend the celebrations - but he comes over all coy when asked for details.
“The idea was to stun the guests, make the mood glamorous and bring Bollywood into our lives,” said Chudawala, 34, as he recalled his eight-day wedding party held in Singapore.
The lengthy extravaganza was sprinkled with an array of Indian film and television stars, who flew in to mingle with family and friends at evening parties, as well as to dance with the bride and groom.
For Chudawala, it was an impressive display of his family's wealth and influence, and his house in Delhi is full of photographs showing smiling wedding guests posing with Bollywood pin-ups.
But, reflecting India's complex attitudes to privacy, Chudawala only shows the photographs to visitors on the strict condition that they do not reveal the identity of the star guests.
“It is a necessary rule both for them and for us,” he said simply.
Sanjay Dharewa, who owns a celebrity management company in the eastern city of Kolkata, explains that the rented “star guest” phenomenon is due to newly-rich Indian families seeking prestige to underline their wealth.
“Hiring Bollywood actors to make a guest appearance at a wedding is the best way to entertain guests,” he said. “It displays your spending power.” Dharewa, who has a reputation for cutting deals with A-list names like Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan, says Bollywood actors are often willing to spare time to attend weddings when they are not shooting films.
“Sometimes if the families are willing to give a hefty fee then actors even change their work schedule,” he said, adding that families also plan their pre-wedding parties around the stars' diaries.
“Even though everyone knows it is a financial deal, the actors make the family members feel as if they are genuine friends. They hug the groom and bride, crack a joke all this is just to lift the couple's status,” Dharewa told AFP.
And it can be quick bucks too. “Come for ten minutes, smile, talk to the guests, make the hosts feel special and get out. That's it,” he said.
A 2010 report by Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management said India's dollar millionaire population grew by 51 per cent last year to 126,700 individuals.
With weddings traditionally the central focus of Indian life, the new wave of money has created ever-higher demands for lavish, unique marriage celebrations.
Gimmicks include tulips flown from Holland and gold sovereigns given as gifts to every guest.
“A wedding is the best way to shout, scream, and use every method you can to announce I am rich. And you are my guest,” said Raghav Chopra, a Delhi-based wedding consultant.
Renting a star guest requires delicate negotiations as many Bollywood stars often deny they attend private events for cash.
But wedding planners coordinate with show-business agents to maintain a long list of those who may be able to “drop by” for a special dance or group photograph.
“Everything is on a minute-to-minute basis. Some choose to arrive in a helicopter while actresses prefer to make an entry to the venue along with the bride,” said Ritu Dhanuka, a wedding planner in Mumbai.
“Everyone wants a bit of Bollywood experience. We secretly crave to see the stars, touch them and get pictures with them.” In 2004, the marriage of industrialist L.N. Mittal's daughter, Vanisha, epitomised how modern weddings can match the extravagance of India's lost era of maharajahs.
It was held in a French chateau with performances by Kylie Minogue and Shah Rukh Khan - and cost a reported 60 million dollars.
The latest trend is for an actor to play in a pre-wedding cricket match with the groom and his friends, or for an actress to go on a girls' shopping trip with the bride.
“All this is tiring to organise but everything is worth it for a bit of star power,” said Dhanuka.—AFP