After virtual board meetings and court hearings, comes the virtual wedding. More couples are tying the knot online, thanks to the new physical-distancing and safety norms.
Helping them put such plans into action are startups offering the look and feel of a conventional wedding. They organise the sangeet complete with DJ, mehndi ceremony and even customised virtual wedding photography. It’s all solemnised on a conference call with the bride, groom and guests dialing in.
“Everything that has been done in a traditional wedding, we can do that in a virtual wedding as well,” said Geeta Raj Rawtani, founder of virtual event organising startup My Eventz. “We are offering the entire backend support with a complete event flow to the bride and the groom.”
Mumbai-based My Eventz started operations in May and has got bookings from various cities to organise weddings, wedding anniversaries and birthdays.
PartyStarters! has started putting together virtual parties and providing wedding services since April. The Mumbai-based private party and wedding organiser and has done two such virtual ceremonies so far. Founder Niyomi Zatakia said it’s not considered auspicious to postpone a wedding once the cards have been given out, hence the push to put the seal on an alliance on the given date.
“For the next wedding season in December-January, people are in a wait-and-watch mode but they too will have to do certain functions virtually if not the entire wedding,” Zatakia said. “Weddings with 1,000 or more guests may not happen for foreseeable future.”
Currently, states have various rules, with some barring such gatherings entirely or restricting guests to 50 as in Delhi. While the current phase of the lockdown ends on May 31, it’s not clear what form the next phase will take but Covid-19 safeguards are likely to remain until in place, especially for large crowds, until the infection crisis is over.
The virtual wedding offerings cover the entire process–sending e-invites, guest management, getting a pandit for the rituals, an MC to host the event, DJs for the music, gift hampers for each guest so they can raise a toast from their respective homes and more.
The bigger companies have also got into the game.
People Interactive, which owns the world’s largest matrimony portal Shaadi.com, has launched a Weddings From Home initiative to help couples across communities, cultures and religions get hitched.
“We have innovated a whole new way to help couples get married, without even stepping out of their homes,” said Adhish Zaveri, director, marketing, Shaadi.com. “With Weddings From Home, couples can get married on that exact date regardless of the lockdown, just that it’ll be done virtually.”
The portal has conducted several virtual marriages. At one on April 9, the priest was in Raipur while the bride was in Bareli and the groom in Mumbai. Another wedding on May 6 saw the groom in Dehradun, his family in Assam, the bride in Bhopal and the pandit in Raipur officiating at the ceremony through a video call.
The size of the Indian wedding industry was $50 billion and growing at double-digit rates, according to a KPMG report in 2017. However the pandemic has dealt a severe blow to an industry thus far considered recession proof.
Venues, food and decoration form a major chunk of any wedding budget. In a virtual one, without these charges, overall expenses range from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh and goes higher if a big-name MC or DJ is chosen.
Investors are keenly watching this space.
“As an investor, we are looking at startups which can innovate and thrive in this pandemic situation,” said Digvijay Singh, COO, Indian Angel Network. “Sectors such as biotech, robotics, medical tech, ed tech etc. are in our focus currently. It will be interesting to see how wedding startups innovate during these tough times and create a viable business model.”
While digital events are catching on, there is a question of privacy that needs to be resolved, said Priyanka Sinha, partner at law firm A&P Partners.
“Such events involve the collection of a lot of confidential information about the wedding guests provided by the client to the service provider raising data concerns,” Sinha said. The big challenge for platforms will be securing data.