US tastes Indian wedding spectacle

Traffic comes to a halt and heads turn when she walks down the street. A date with her can cost anything upwards of $8,500.
Young Indian men with deep pockets are queuing up for Minnie to realize their fantasies. Those who can’t afford her settle for Sadie, Cindy or Penelope who cost about $500 an hour.

Minnie is an elephant and the other three are white mares rented out for Indian weddings.
The four-legged beauties are part of a booming wedding industry that caters to the ever-growing demands of rich Indians in the US.

Huge cost
Manan Shah had a childhood dream of taking centre stage in his marriage procession — or barat — on an elephant.
He was inspired by the Indian blockbuster of yesteryear, Haathi Mere Saathi, a movie about a boy with elephants as friends.
A relative’s wedding in India where he saw an elephant carry the groom to the bride added to the fascination.
“I knew it was almost a lifetime wish for him and so I decided to go for it despite the huge cost,’’ says his father Suresh Shah, who has lived in the US for more than 30 years.

Five or six years ago, it would have been an impossible wish to fulfill. But not anymore.
A few calls to the wedding planner and Minnie, a 3,175kg (7,000 pounds) grey Asian diva, is on her way to Washington DC from Connecticut.
“Elephants are the latest trend — and because there are not many around, the demand is always high,’’ says Sonal Shah, who runs an event planning agency “Save The Date.”

The cost of hiring an elephant can go up to $30,000 depending on distance — but people still seem to have the money to pay for it.
Sonal says most of her Indian clientele wants bigger, better and more elaborate weddings.
“There’s a great craze for new unreleased models of cars like Aston Martins, Ferraris and Lamborghinis for the barat and I am also doing one where the groom will land on a helicopter,’’ says Sonal Shah.

Bollywood inspired
No wonder Indian wedding planners have mushroomed all over the US. And so have supporting professionals like videographers, hair and make-up specialists, henna artists and so on.
The music and dance must also be Bollywood inspired, with specialist DJs and choreographers.

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