MICHEL MARTIN, host: Well, here's a question: Would you have boycotted an invitation to the wedding of Will and Kate? Of course, we're talking about the royal wedding at Westminster Abbey earlier this year that joined Prince William and Catherine Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It was one of the most-watched and most glamorous social events of the year. But did you know that one country has weddings all the time that almost put the nuptials of Will and Kate to shame? We're talking helicopters as gifts, movie stars paid to mingle as guests, luxury cars and private jets for the use of guests.
We're talking about India, where over-the-top weddings are becoming the new normal. Here's a clip from the 2001 film "Monsoon Wedding" that talks about the pressure to spend on the big day.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MONSOON WEDDING")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I was a little tense.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Tense? What are you tense about? You're going shopping. I'm the one who should be tense.
WOMAN: Well, I'm doing it for our darling daughter now. You saw how much they gave us. we can't look bad in front of our in-laws. Just let me go and do it, okay?
MAN: Why should you go shopping again?
WOMAN: And I'm telling you, it's going to cost us.
MARTIN: Well, those pressures in "Monsoon Wedding" are small potatoes by today's standards, where one wedding in 2011 included 15,000 guests. In another, the bride's family gifted the groom a helicopter. But now, some government officials are saying it is all too much, and they are concerned that middle class and even poor people are putting themselves in debt in an effort to keep up.
We had to know more, so we've called upon Ashish Abrol. He is founder of BigIndianWedding.com, which he says is India's most-visited wedding planning portal. His website connects brides and grooms to wedding services and follows trends in the Indian wedding industry. And Ashish Abrol joins us now on the phone from New Delhi. Welcome. Thanks for joining us.
ASHISH ABROL: I'm glad to be on the show, Michel.
MARTIN: So how did you get the idea for this service?
ABROL: You know, I lived in the U.S. for about nine years, and I wanted to come back to India, and I had this idea of running an Internet company. And I scanned the market a little bit in India to figure out where there might be an opportunity for us to sort of play in, as far as the Internet business is concerned, and looked at the market and weddings just came out as the most obvious choice for us to go for. The market in India is large. It's about an $11 billion market, which probably is the second or third-largest market in the world.
MARTIN: Could you just give us a sense of what are some of the most over-the-top things that you've provided for a wedding, or that you've seen at an Indian wedding in recent years?
ABROL: What we've been noticing is that people are not just spending on the number of guests that they invite to weddings, not just on the food that they showcase at their functions, but also the gifts that they give to guests that attend the weddings. People are giving gold coins, gold figurines. They spend anywhere between $200 to $500 per guests as a return gift. Understand...
MARTIN: As a gift. So like that's the goodie bag - what we would call a goodie bag.
ABROL: What you would call a goodie bag.
ABROL: Exactly. Which could be anywhere between 500 to 1,000 guests. So that's a lot of money. And then...
MARTIN: And you're talking about invitations, apparently, are particularly lavish as well.
ABROL: Exactly. So that's the next thing I wanted to point out. I mean, people are spending a ton of money on getting the very unique invitation cards. One has to keep in mind that everything that people are doing is eventually to sort of stand out from the crowd and if it takes money, that's not a detriment for anybody. So they're spend...
MARTIN: Well, how much would somebody spend on an invitation, on an expensive invitation? How much would that be?
ABROL: Well, people are spending up to $250 per invitation card.
MARTIN: For one - wait, wait, wait. Hold it - $250 for one invitation?
ABROL: That's exact - I mean, $250 is what they're spending on one invitation card. And like I mentioned earlier, there could be up to 1,000 guests. Because people who have the capacity to pay $250 for one invitation card also know a lot of people, that those tend to be more influential, they have a large gathering that they have at these functions. So you're talking about $250,000, maybe, just being spent on creating invitation cards.
MARTIN: Now, is this - has it - one of the things I was curious about is have large weddings always been the custom in India, or is this something new?
ABROL: Wedding, it certainly is one of the largest event that an Indian family engages in, which is not completely untrue for other parts of the world, but I think in India, it's a little bit more. There's a social feeling that's attached to creating an extravaganza for their daughter or for their son. And it's sort of like a status presentation for the guests and family and friends. So that's what it used to be. But now what's happening is there's a lot of new wealth that's been created the last, I would say, two decades. So the number of people, the sheer number of people who are participating in this sort of new extravaganza is much larger.
Earlier, maybe you had 10 weddings like this in a season. Now you probably have 1,000 weddings like this in a season.
MARTIN: If you've just joined us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm speaking with Ashish Abrol. He's the founder of BigIndianWedding.com. He tells us it's the - India's most visited site for wedding planning. And we're talking about the very extravagant weddings that have become the vogue in India, and we're talking about why that is.
You know, I understand that this is people of means. But often, we find that the kinds of things that used to be just limited to the wealthy now become the things that people who are not as wealthy want. It kind of ups the ante, if you want to call it that. So we find that - is it true that people are mortgaging their homes, as some people are, and that there's a concern now that there's this pressure to spend on weddings to sort of keep up, that some people are worried it's causing some financial havoc?
ABROL: Absolutely. And I think the government has made some noises about curtailing the number of guests that people can invite at a wedding, the food that can be served at a wedding. I think those are more populist measures. I mean, they're very difficult to implement, and they're very difficult to execute.
However, you know, media has become very visible, obviously. There's 100 new channels that have come up in the last four or five years in India. People have become more literate, so they're consuming a lot more print and television. As a result of that, they're seeing all this. They're reading all this. And it certainly has an impact on a middle-class person to sort of want to ape what the rich are doing, and that does have some sort of social pressure. And that could create people ending up mortgaging homes, and that's happening. In smaller cities, that pressure is still there.
MARTIN: You know, we hear, though, that there was one wedding - was this a member of parliament? Was this a lawmaker who had 15,000 people at the daughter's wedding?
ABROL: You know, there was a wedding that was hosted in Hyderabad. These two brothers who got married to these two girls on the same day, at the same time, and there were 15,000 guests at that wedding. The father of the two sons is in industrialist. He's not a politician. He's a industrialist.
MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask how many people were at your wedding?
ABROL: We had about 600 people at our wedding.
MARTIN: Oh, just a modest, little affair.
ABROL: It's kind of modest by Indian standards, I would say, in India.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: Six hundred people over what? Three days, four?
ABROL: Well, the wedding day was 600 people, and then we had three functions that preceded the wedding. We had cocktail, and then two traditional Indian functions, which were sort of smaller affairs. The cocktail was maybe 350 people, and then the others were a little smaller. By Indian standards, they were not up to the flock, I would imagine.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: Well, did you have an elephant, though? Did you come in on an elephant?
ABROL: I came in on a horse, actually.
MARTIN: Oh, on a horse. Just, oh, wow, a horse. That's almost American, you know.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: Well, I'm sure that you and your bride were fabulous.
ABROL: Thank you. Thank you for reminding me of a great day.
MARTIN: Ashish Abrol is the founder of BigIndianWedding.com. That's India's most-visited site for wedding planning. He was nice enough to join us on the phone from New Delhi. Thank you so much for joining us.
ABROL: Thank you, Michel, for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: And that's our program for today.
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