The Wealthiest Weddings: an Insider View with Chhaya Momaya
A pioneer in Image Consulting, Chhaya Momaya’s expertise lies in grooming, etiquette and luxury brand building. A true fashionista and highly influential in Mumbai’s chic and elite circle, Chhaya understands what it takes to orchestrate a magnificent celebration. We spoke to her about mega weddings, its global flavor and the etiquette of the hosts in the Indian context.
Q- You have attended some of the grandest weddings in India. In many such weddings the number of guests may have exceeded 5,000 or 10,000. How do the hosts manage to keep everything personal?
One of the unique aspects of Indian weddings is the involvement of all the family members; so what happens quite often is that family members are take on specialized tasks like manning the reception, food, entertainment etc. so all the guests are attended to personally. Today, all well-heeled families can afford to hire the services of the best wedding planners to handle the ‘wedding project’ completely- but regardless of the scope of work of wedding planners the parents of the bride or groom involve other family members on the big day; so the feel may be grand or magnificent but there is that personal touch! It all starts with a warm-welcome, so typically at the entrance there is a senior or younger member of the family as the main hosts cannot be there all the time. The second most important gesture is ensuring that each guest is well looked after while they are there; while typically most guests would have common friends there, and the hosts may be unable to introduce them to their other friends, one of the family members try to ask each and every guest if they have had dinner. It means that their presence and enjoyment matters more than anything else!
Umaid Bhavan, Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Q- Is there a different etiquette protocol when it comes to destination or at-home weddings?
When it comes to destination weddings, the hosts typically make a few or more visits to the destination to get acquainted with it, so they can guide guests on the local flavors and attractions. This information is also printed and placed in the rooms, so the guests can enjoy the local sights, time permitting. I have noticed most guests enjoy a destination wedding where they are not confined to the luxury resort or plush hotel space only, but where they also get an opportunity to explore a beach town or the cultures of a city.
Destination weddings are usually held in big, well equipped hotels so there is an attractive welcome kit which clearly indicates the courtesies which the host is extending (salon, gym access etc) and which also mentions what services (like the spa, or in-room dining) are available, maybe at a discount but which will be billed to the guests directly.
Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan
Q- At a Destination Wedding how do the hosts make the guests feel special, particularly since so many guests are regularly attending destination weddings in locales like Goa, Rajasthan, Thailand.
Wherever the wedding maybe, a location next to your home, or at an exotic venue overseas, you feel special when the hosts interact with you warmly. At a destination wedding, the hosts also aim for perfection in service which is why a hospitality desk with the best manpower is all-important. But we can never be sure everything will be ‘perfect’ always; what can be done is to spend adequate time on planning looking at everything from the ‘guests’ perspective- the invitation, the welcome hampers, the entertainment, the menu etc. Sometimes it is about the simple elements- placing light snacks in the room or anything else guests may require when they are getting ready, a reckoner of the contact numbers of the different people handling different work functions and reminder phone calls (but not more than what is required).
Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad
Q- Does the kind of menu the hosts offer to their guests also speak about the personal attention?
If it’s a destination wedding, you have to include the local cuisine atleast at one or two functions; but many guests may not enjoy the local cuisine, so at most weddings, there is a caterer from the home town who puts together a spread that comes as close to home food. Some guests prefer the ‘familiar’, while others may like to experiment with the new and exotic, and while it may sound easy to put together, even the most talented chefs have a challenge in designing a menu that appeals to one and all- the children and the elders, the vegetarians and non-vegetarians, the Indians and the NRIs.
Q- Abroad there are cash bars and guests sometimes pick tabs for the valets and make their own reservations for destination weddings, what is the trend in India and what is appropriate as per our sensibilities?
Some hosts take care of each and every aspect, even charter flights, while some hosts request guests to make their own flight or room reservations; there is nothing right or wrong about it; it is all about your comfort level. Whatever the plan is, the key is to communicate it as clearly as possible.
Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa, Cebu, Philippines
Q- What about the wedding favors? Does it differ if it is an at-home wedding or a destination wedding?
In destination weddings, usually it is something which is locally made so it acts as a souvenir, a reminder of the place you stayed at. And the best way to present it is to keep it in the rooms. Another personal touch is to provide a carry bag along with the favor so guests can carry it in case they are unable to pack it; a small gesture but an important one.
For at-home weddings, the practice is to send the wedding favors along with the invitation cards.
Q- Would you like to tell us about some magnificent weddings where the hosts went out of their way to make the guests comfortable, and the personal touches at the wedding?
It has to be the wedding of Nayantara, daughter of Chennai based industrialists Shyam and Nina Kothari with Shamit Bhartia. It was planned to the tee and every invitee was given the same importance. Almost anything a guest might have forgotten to pack was placed in the rooms- even reading glasses. The detailing that had gone into every aspect was amazing, and customization was the key.
One more wedding that comes to my mind is Mallika Reddy’s (daughter of Sanjay Reddy of GVK Industries) wedding in Hyderabad. Over 10,000 guests attended some of the functions and at one function I wanted to speak to Sanjay Reddy, and he excused himself saying that he is caught up and will be back soon. He returned in ten minutes apologizing for not being able to interact ten minutes earlier.
Organizing a big wedding in India is a challenge so you imagine what it can be to host one in Europe. The Jindals hosted their daughter Tanvi’s wedding in Florence, they spent a lot of time interacting with the local venues, event managers and caterers to explain how Indians celebrate differently, and the big difference in the way we consume food or even water. This helped the team in Florence put together a wow experience for the guests and I can’t think of a better example of a shaadi with all the community flavors, in a luxurious European locale.