“How I Planned My Sister-In-Law’s Wedding”

You’ve read about our wedding of the month, Sheetal + Nirav and part one of their spectacular day. Now, read about how it was conceptualised and pulled off by Sheetal’s sister-in-law aka wedding planner, Anisha Vaibhav Narang. 

So around April 2015, my family and I were in Mumbai for my sister-in-law, Sheetal’s roka with Nirav Bajaj, who was based in Mumbai. The roka was on a Sunday and that morning I met with the groom’s sister, brother-in-law and some other friends at breakfast and while we were talking, I just introduced myself as a wedding planner. It was just in jest mostly and I also mentally charted out a new career for myself. But at that breakfast, everyone took what I said quite seriously and it defined the next few months of my life. I now have newfound respect for anyone who says they worked on a wedding - be it in terms of doing the décor or design, the food, logistics, hotels or more - it’s not an easy job! Plus, I learnt so much about weddings and how people come together to create a dream. It’s not one person’s job, that I know now.

Firstly, the thing I realized about weddings, especially in India is that there is SO much emotion and drama around it. Society for ages has told fathers that they will attain moksha or nirvana if and when they perform their daughters’ kanya daan. Mothers bring up daughters knowing they are paraya dhan and have to be ‘given away’ one day! Yet on the actual day no one can control their emotions… this is what it comes down to. 

The planning, the drama and the biggest day of someone’s life. So here’s how I planned my sister-in-law’s wedding as a planner, suffice to say it was a beautiful experience, but also one that came with a lot of responsibility.

1. Budget

If you are a Sheikh’s daughter then it doesn’t matter, but otherwise you need a budget to start off. And from time to time, we need to ascertain whether one is working within the outline or not.

There are two ways to look at this: First, you need to budget for the entire wedding. Next, you budget for individual heads like food, hotel and logistics, décor, clothes etc. You can move your budgets around, spend lesser on say food or use more on decor or go deep on favours etc. The idea is to maintain the budget - just add or subtract, 20% on either side of what has been budgeted - that’s your ideal number. Do remember: there will always be something that hasn’t been accounted for, or unplanned or unexpected that ups the budget, keep space for that.

2. Guest List

This is your god of gods. Really, I mean it! This has got to be fool-proof with no scope for human error. Why? This is who wedding is for and about. If you miss any detail, maybe a guest did not get a room of his choice, or worse did not like the food or the planning etc, you are responsible. You have to put down every name you plan on calling for the wedding. This too this will change till the last day, thanks to RSVPs. In which case it’s always handy to have multiple guests lists of various categories: One for immediate family, one for extended family, third cousins, friends, close friends and colleagues.  

3. Wedding Size

What decides the size of a wedding? The destination. Is it in the girl’s city? Is it in the boy’s town? Is it a destination wedding? Is it in the city they grew up in? The size is determined easily once you know this - the city they live in means that the guest list is bigger, you have to call everyone. 

But if it’s a destination wedding, it’s only reserved for close family and friends. People you wouldn’t mind waking up to and literally living with for 2-4 days. The Jaisalmer wedding had both - we had a reception in the city where the family lived and the wedding at a destination.

4. Wedding Type: Religion, Culture & Events

So for the most part, the religion of the boy and girl will define this. If the religion is the same, it’s effortless. If it’s mixed, then perhaps a combination of some kind mutually agreeable to both parties in terms of rituals to be performed. It can even be mixed Hindu weddings like Punjabi-sindhi or Marwari-tamilian, etc. Religion could be similar but cultures and rituals might just be different.

Usually it’s both parents who sit and discuss this, sometimes the bride and groom define what they want. This is also important for planning since it will define exactly how many functions  are there, what comes after what etc. 

Also, every event has to be planned with arrivals and departures in mind - so main events on the first or last day and fun ones in the middle. The wedding has to be action-packed without disappointing anyone.

4. Food

This is the biggest thing that people come for, the biggest thing people talk about, and the biggest thing that people take back. These days, there is immense pressure to better or excel what is usually being done, vis a vis food, ultimately impacting guest experience.

Ours was a 300 guest wedding and in order to have a delightful culinary experience we decided to use two service providers. One of which was the hotel where the wedding was happening, i.e. Suryagarh, Jaisalmer. The other was one of India’s most renowned caterers, FoodLink, Mumbai.  

We had hi-teas, multi cuisines, innovative bars like the rice bar that offered everything from a bisibelebath to a risotto. Punjabi specials with everything from street food like the traditional chaats to the chole kulchas to spiked golas and even light Mediterranean snacks followed by a rich Mughlai-Marwari dinners.

The reason we used two caterers was to manage the work load, given our functions were back to back and to improve quality and turn out of each event. We kept in mind known food allergies of family and friends, spice levels, vegetarian or non vegetarian preferences, sugar free needs, the usual but important specific food needs of people. We ensured that guests always had easy accessibility to food and are never hungry.

5. Hotels and Logistics

So many things are at play here, especially if it’s a destination wedding. There are hotel preferences, likes and dislikes and each side to be put up at different places. Also along with the guest list, arrivals and departures have to be coordinated accordingly and check in and check outs planned. For us the logistics were complicated. 

Airport arrivals came only in jodhpur, and then guests were picked up and needed to drive 4-5 hours to get to jaisalmer. So that meant, families would travel together and people have to be clubbed together. What we did was hire a local transport in charge, who provided us with luxury buses as well as about 50 taxis. That took care of things.

Wedding Tales, headed by Noor Khan, Bangalore were hired to do the running around and co-ordinating for the entire 3 days. Everything from airport pick ups, to organizing the respective car rides for each guest, to check ins, to two and fros between both our hotels was taken into consideration.The team also helped in setting up salon and spa appointments for our guests before events, packed up our welcome gifts and organized sight-seeing for guests looking to go out.

6. Décor

Again like food, there is no end to how much you can do and what all you can do here. What is important though is to ascertain whether you want a wedding designer or a decorator as many people are good wedding decorators not necessarily designers. And the one we used was the latter. We had a beautiful backdrop, that of the hotel in an otherwise barren almost desert like landscape. And Devika Narain did a splendid job of this. 

The bride liked the unique, opulent, royal decor and so keeping her taste in mind, magic was created given the landscape without taking away from the natural beauty. As a wedding designer, Devika managed to incorporate many elements from the wedding card in the décor, right down to the boxes for the gifts. Many guests noticed the attention to detail and appreciated it because the entire wedding followed the same design theme - from food tags to even easels with menus. Like they say, god is in the details.

7. Photography

Nothing captures the essence of a dream wedding more than a picture one can see even 10 years later or a video that one can watch with their children. While this is also an important part of wedding planning it’s relatively easier to handle. Or at least it was in our case. We engaged the services of Joe Radhik, one of India’s top wedding photographers and filmers. He came with a team of about 8-10 people who took care of creating a lifetime of memories for us. 

We got that organised too, we created a list of must have pictures to take: one for the wall kind of picture, the families together or  just friends etc. We gave the photographer a low down so they know that whose emotions are to be captured.

8. Small Things

Do destination weddings work without lists? Not really so we have exhaustive ones for even the littlest of things. We are in a desert area where nothing is available - so we had to carry everything, back-ups and extras included. Right from pooja items to every small thali had to be packed up.  My husband and I travelled to the destination two weeks before the date and made sure everything had arrived and was checked against an inventory. For example, even the suhag ka dupatta was taken in, because let’s face it, every religion, custom or tradition is specific and unique to each family. Additional medication, specific family medicines, medicines for kids, tagged and carried. Plenty of packing materials, feminine care products were also taken care of.

9. Make up & Outfits

These are the people who work towards making family, friends and most specifically the bride look like a million bucks at weddings - yes, makeup artists are super important. They need to be booked at least 4-6 months in advance. So whether you want a more glamorous look or a simple natural one, it’s important to pick the right makeup artist for the day because there is no going back on the day.

The most most fun part of a wedding is the shopping for clothes and other related things like jewellery, trousseau etc. Again something that needs to be done at least 3-4 months in advance as that’s how long either designers or tailors take to create the outfits if the bride’s dreams. Plus those months one can’t fluctuate too much in terms of weight else clothes that are made to order won’t fit. Which is why one usually also does a trial just a month before the wedding. Knowing these timelines can help because everything needs to be right on the d-day.

10. Entertainment

Everyone from a JLo, to Harshdeep Kaur, to Shah Rukh Khan have performed and entertained crowds at weddings. Even classical artist perform at weddings so we had to figure out the right entertainment for this wedding.

We had Harshdeep Kaur at the mehendi function, local Rajasthani manganiars at the desert and the famed Ghazi Khan and his classical performers at the sit-down dinner after the wedding. Again these people need to be booked months in advance. Also while doing this, each artist has technical requirements for them and their teams in terms of what kind of speakers they need, audio settings etc.  

Well, this is exactly how I planned Sheetal’s wedding and it was a delight. I learned about big things and enjoyed the planning for the little things. In the end, it was a beautiful experience both for the bride and me. 

By Anisha

Xoxo