our chacha is so funny!” exclaimed Anoli Patel while directing the video camera at Dolly Chugh’s sangeet party. In that moment of clarity, Chugh realized that Patel—and the crew of her company, The Shaadi Story—was chatting with Chugh at her wedding about her relatives as if they, too, were related. “Oh my God, I am so glad they are here,” Chugh remembers thinking.
Four years and two daughters later, her sentiments remain strong. “Looking back, it is so rare that somebody outside your circle is so suddenly a part of your circle,” Chugh muses. “I have these wonderful people in my life and the person making my wedding video had to understand that. I didn’t even know this is what I wanted captured until I saw it on video.”
Patel’s company, The Shaadi Story, specializes in creating wedding videos in a documentary style that captures the intimacy and the people behind the event. “I will be honest, not everyone deserves The Shaadi Story,” says Patel. “This is a very special product, so if I am going to pour my heart and soul into it, they have to love it and feel just the way we do about the whole experience.” Of course, such dedication comes at a price: Patel charges $20,000 to $50,000 per wedding. Because of the specialized nature of their work, Patel and her team only take on four or five weddings a year. To date, the company is 15 weddings old.
Patel—who has three young sons to manage, as well—is no stranger to film direction and production. Over the course of her career, she has helped launch TV Asia, worked in entertainment news at The Asian Variety Show, directed various documentaries including a reality series on Indian weddings for the Discovery Channel and, most recently, produced the feature film The Hangman starring Om Puri. But lately, Patel has been focusing her time and energy into The Shaadi Story.
An impromptu roving-reporter-style video Patel shot of her best friend’s engagement party inspired the concept for the company. But instead of having Patel just be a fly on the wall filming the event—the typical videographer format—The Shaadi Story gets actively involved. Tightly edited, journalistically presented and peppered with intimate interviews of the bride and groom’s relatives, The Shaadi Story video preserves the personal, intimate moments that can be found in any desi wedding, while still capturing the raucousness as well. In other words, it’s not just a video—it’s a real movie.
In keeping with the documentary nature of the video, The Shaadi Story crew (comprised of Patel and professional cameramen who film for companies such as the Discovery Channel) follows the bride and groom everywhere, sometimes even urging them to return to the place of their first date. For a wedding they videographed recently, they took the couple back to their college campus where the couple first met. “It forced them to take a break,” says Patel. “The bride told us going back to the very beginning reminded them of why they fell in love. It made their connection even stronger.”
Patel and company specialize in capturing moments of connection: the bride on the morning of the wedding when she is alone with her thoughts; parents’ eyes welling up on camera as they tell their daughters how much they love them; a zestful, electric reception party caught on film from all the right angles. As Patel explains, The Shaadi Story is simply life unfolded on camera: “We laugh with them, we cry with them, we are with them … together until the end.”
But in order to get the laughing and crying on camera, Patel has to know just how to ask the right questions to get what she wants on the video. “The morning of my wedding, she caught me alone with my sister,” confesses Swati Valbh, who got married in 2003. “It was like having a chat with a girlfriend … I hadn’t had a chance to gather my thoughts and emotions about my experience at my own wedding and there was so much inside me.”
In fact, Patel is so good at comfortably getting into her clients’ inner circles that she’s often invited back to continue shooting. Patel and her crew returned to Valbh’s new home in California a few months later to shoot the post-marital bliss and add to the video. “Over time, it becomes a video of your life. It only begins at your wedding,” says Patel. And The Shaadi Story was recently invited to shoot a client’s father’s 60th birthday party. Patel laughs when the dissonance between that project and her company’s name is pointed out. “Yeah, well, I may have to change the name!” she jokes.
Like many of their clients, Chugh is in regular contact with Patel. “My daughters adore their sons! They call them Bhaiya,” laughs Chugh. “You don’t hire The Shaadi Story crew. You welcome them into your life.”