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hen Mukta and Gautam Sain got married in Virginia three years ago, they pulled out all the stops. Their wedding was an elaborate Indian affair replete with traditional events like the sangeet, chunni charhana, mehndi and more. Gautam even arrived at the wedding atop a lavishly decorated horse alongside friends and family members dancing to music, and Mukta was carried out of the ceremony in a doli, an ornate, chariot-like carriage. And while the whole event came together in a seemingly effortless melody of exquisite clothes, mandaps and food, Mukta actually spent 10 months planning the wedding. She tackled the project with the efficiency of a military operation, utilizing Excel spreadsheets and organized lists to execute her dream wedding. “I absolutely loved it!” she recalls. “It was such a fun time. The hardest part was keeping track of all the details.”

Dulhan Expo’s Tips

– Bring your fiance, friends and family so you can get second opinions.
– Carry cards with your name, contact information and wedding date to give to vendors instead of wasting time filling out forms.
– Many shows offer complimentary bags, but if they don’t, bring your own so you don’t lose all the information you collect.
– Spend a few minutes talking with vendors you are interested in rather than just collecting business cards and moving on. You’ll save yourself time.
– Jot your thoughts about each vendor on the back of their business cards or brochures so you don’t forget which ones you clicked with and which ones you didn’t like.
– Dress nicely. Some photographers will offer complimentary pictures as take-home favors.
– Bring your checkbook in case you want to book a vendor on the spot.
– Enter every contest or raffle. Your chances of winning a prize are high.

Ask any wedding planner about the most vital ingredient to throwing the perfect wedding, and the response is the same: Attention to detail. But when brides must juggle caterers, mandap bookings, henna artists, wedding lenghas, flowers, DJs—and usually all while dealing with family concerns from both sides—planning a dream wedding can turn into a nightmare. And the typical South Asian wedding in North America is hardly easy. “The days of doing a simple wedding are over. Bigger and better is what’s prominent now,” says Mital Vora of Bollywood Mandap and Decor Solutions, a Canadian company that specializes in creating themed South Asian weddings.

Though Vora’s experiences might betray some bias (his company worked on the society wedding of the daughter of billionaire steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal), there is certainly truth to his words. Experts estimate that South Asians in North America spend anywhere from $20,000 to $150,000 on their weddings, and they usually require a year to make arrangements. “It takes a great deal of time and energy to plan a wedding,” admits Sain. “Contacting vendors, coordinating timings of events and planning out details require a lot of effort.”

Indeed, the array of vendors needed to coordinate a wedding can be mind-boggling—and that’s after they’ve all been selected. Trying to book a photographer, videographer, caterer, makeup artist and more is the first daunting step. Enter the bridal expo—the solution to the South Asian bride’s dilemma. These open houses that bring together 60 to 200 wedding vendors in one place on one day are gaining enormous popularity around the United States and Canada, and for good reason. Sain, who was married when there weren’t many such expos in existence in the US, believes attending one would have saved her a lot of time. “I would have found them very useful. I took a lot of time to drive and visit individual vendors. Now you can compare prices, get ideas and talk to various vendors in one place. There are also several vendors out there that people may not be aware of, so the expos are a productive way to efficiently know all your resources,” she admits.

Supply and demand

Resources certainly abound. A typical South Asian bridal expo is a cornucopia of sights, sounds and smells. Rows of booths and tables boasting everything from henna patterns to patterned flatware line a banquet hall or convention center, while attendees mull about the wares listening to Bollywood-inspired music and inhaling the wafting aromas of spicy South Asian fare. Many vendors feature samples of their work on display and are eager for the opportunity to woo and entice potential customers. And though many expos occur during the fall (a good eight to nine months before the prime wedding season), they do continue year-round, allowing procrastinating brides or fall couples can take advantage of several expos in the spring.

Parag Shah, marketing director of Kismet Wedding Show, one of Canada’s largest and most comprehensive expos, tells South Asian brides that the wedding expo is “the one opportunity for you to bring your fiance, parents and friends in one day and check out so many vendors. So if you’ve thought about looking at seven photographers, you may come out of here and say, OK, there are two that I really like, so I’ll just look at those two going forward. You’re saving yourself a lot of time and hassle.” Ruchir Mewawala, coordinator of Rose Events South Asian Bridal Shows, adds, “The parents love it because it saves them a lot of headache and running around searching for a perfect fit for their son or daughter.”

But it’s one-stop shopping. You’ve got all your ideas in one day, and you can go home and filter it all.

With her wedding approaching in July, Kismet Wedding Show attendee Koel Noegy appreciates the convenience the expo offers. “It’s nice to have everything in one place. It’s also good to see all the samples and how the vendors do their work,” she says. Bidisha DeSarkar realized after attending the Kismet show that there were details she hadn’t even considered. “I found a lot of information and things I wouldn’t have thought of, like small details such as table settings. Some of it would not have even occurred to me. There was a lot of useful information,” she says.

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Another advantage to bridal shows is something every self-respecting brown person can appreciate—discounts. Shah explains: “Traditionally, at these shows, the prices are better than if you go driving [to different vendors] every weekend. A lot of vendors will have show specials where they’ll say, book today or come in a week, and it’s 200 bucks off.” Best of all, attendees don’t have to pay hefty fees to attend—most expos charge a nominal $2 or $5 fee or none at all. Sumit Arya, organizer of Dulhan Expo—the largest American organization of its kind, attracting 5,000 visitors to its April show—says that his expos are so successful because “the price is so low or free. We’re able to attract complete families.”

Business is booming

It’s not just brides who benefit from the bridal shows—vendors also have a stake in getting involved. Most expos require vendors to pay a fee for their booth, but the profits they reap are usually well worth the price. Riya Sharma, co-founder of Canada’s Shaadi.ca Annual Wedding Show, says, “Vendors feel great, especially if the exhibiting price is right and they gain business. We have an approximately 90 percent renewal rate, which means our vendors must be extremely happy and satisfied.” Arya echoes the satisfaction expressed by vendors: “At our expo in April, Saurabh Jain, [a DJ from] Sangam Entertainment, said that in two hours, he got 15 confirmed bookings.”

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Bridal bling from Gehna Jewelry.

Rachna Prasad, owner of Gehna Jewelry, was excited about featuring her wares at two expos in Canada within the span of one month this fall. In business for just six months, Prasad designs a variety of jewelry for the South Asian audience. She decided the wedding expo circuit was a good way to get noticed. “I hope to get exposure, because I’m a new designer. I want people to see my designs, appreciate them, and hopefully follow up,” she says. The Kismet show has been a success because “I’ve had a lot of women go gaga over the stuff, so that’s a good sign.”

Pinky Gosal, owner of Vasanti Cosmetics, a makeup line for women with yellow-based skin, is experienced at presenting her company’s best face at various wedding shows. While Vasanti is based in Canada, Gosal makes sure she takes her goods out to shows like Dulhan and Rose Events in the New York/New Jersey area. “Once women try our products, they love them. And they can always order online,” she explains.

To the victor goes the spoils

And since vendors and attendees alike can choose from so many different wedding expos, competition amongst promoters is fierce. Expo organizers are intent on outdoing each other at each event, and the winners, of course, are the attendees—thanks to the lengths promoters will go to impress. With workshops, seminars, giveaways, entertainment, fashion shows and more, some prefer attending an expo to a wedding itself. “The atmosphere is like no other,” says Mewawala, whose Rose Events South Asian Bridal Shows is starting a national tour this month. Mewawala’s shows are lavish affairs—attendees receive complimentary gift bags to collect information and a signature orange rose as they embark upon the feast of wedding vendors. Visitors also get to enjoy a fashion show—complete with interactive lights and music—featuring bridal and evening wear available for order. Guests are welcome to sample food and pastries, and gifts from vendors are not uncommon.

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Expo attendees Pras Chatterjee and Bidisha DeSarkar.

The fashion show has become a staple of the wedding show, and often expos will feature several throughout the day. Asian Wedding Expo 2004 in Chicago on November 21 goes one step beyond the norm. “We’re bringing in Vikram Phadnis for an evening bridal fashion show. He is one of [famous Bollywood star] Salman Khan’s designers. The models are 20 top celebrity models from India,” says organizer Roopen Patel.

Not to be outdone, Dulhan Expo boasts live entertainment couples can book for their weddings. “We’re not interested in entertaining the crowd with Bollywood celebrities,” says Arya. “We have wedding singers, a dance troupe for wedding services, live vocal acts, live instrumental music, tabla and sitar players—everyone who can perform at or play in the background of your ceremony. So everyone who is entertaining you is providing a sample of their work.” At his show in New Jersey on October 31, Masala Bhangra guru Sarina Jain herself was there offering a workshop.

Perhaps the most exciting part of a wedding expo is the chance to win prizes that will come in handy for the wedding itself. Every person attending the Kismet Wedding Show in October was entered to win a honeymoon for two at a Sandals resort in Cuba and a $5,000 dream wedding package that included a videographer, photographer, limousine, DJ and invitations. Other shows boast smaller raffles, and vendors often promote their own prizes like free head table arrangements or henna application appointments.

And it’s not just brides who get into the experience. Wedding expos are the perfect opportunity for men to get involved. DeSarkar’s fiance, Pras Chatterjee, came along with her to the Kismet Wedding Show in Toronto. “I was curious—it’s going to hurt my wallet, so I wanted to see what’s out there,” he laughs. “But it’s one-stop shopping. You’ve got all your ideas in one day, and you can go home and filter it all.” But Arya, who’s been in the bridal business for almost two decades, isn’t ashamed to admit his fascination with the wedding experience. He says there is one thing to remember while planning a wedding. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he says. “It’s not about spending money. It’s about putting your heart and soul into it. It’s about little things that make it special. I would get married 10 times all over again with the whole shebang.” n

Ismat Sarah Mangla was a little overwhelmed by the expo she attended, but the free samosas were worth it.
Published on November 1, 2004.
Photography: Nakasha Ahmad for Nirali Magazine.
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