Thursday, January 17, 2019

Beyoncé, bhangra and a bill in the millions: The wedding that has India obsessed

  • >> Mike Ives and Vindu Goel, The New York Times
    Published: 2018-12-12 02:03:01 BdST

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Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poses with Isha Ambani (L) daughter of Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Industries, and his wife Nita Ambani at Swadesh Bazaar, a curated showcase of traditional Indian crafts and art forms, in Udaipur, in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, December 9, 2018. Reliance Industries/Handout via REUTERS

Indian weddings are known for being long and elaborate. But by any measure, the weeklong celebrations for Isha Ambani, the daughter of perhaps Asia’s richest man, are on another level — or planet — of extravagance.

Ambani, 27, is to be married to her childhood friend Anand Piramal, 33, a real estate developer and scion of another of India’s most prominent business families, on Wednesday in Mumbai. Their weeklong bash is said to include at least five events, and Bloomberg reported a cost estimate of $100 million.

That is about three times the reported cost of Prince Harry’s wedding to American actress Meghan Markle. But it is small change for the father of the bride, Mukesh D Ambani, a tycoon with an estimated net worth of $41.6 billion.

A view of the illuminated City Palace, one of the venues for the pre-wedding celebrations of Isha Ambani, daughter of the Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, is seen in Udaipur, in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, Dec 9, 2018. REUTERS

A view of the illuminated City Palace, one of the venues for the pre-wedding celebrations of Isha Ambani, daughter of the Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, is seen in Udaipur, in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, Dec 9, 2018. REUTERS

Ambani’s businesses, in oil, telecoms, chemicals, textiles, technology and food, touch the lives of every Indian, and his daughter’s wedding is the subject of intense public fascination.

Indian weddings have in recent years become a symbol of the country’s new moneyed elite, said James Crabtree, the author of “The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age.”

“Of course, a wedding of the pre-eminent corporate dynasty of modern Indian history is going to be a very big and very extravagant deal,” he said.

Actress Priyanka Chopra and her husband Nick Jonas arrive in Udaipur to attend pre-wedding celebrations of Isha Ambani, daughter of the Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, December 8, 2018. Reuters

Actress Priyanka Chopra and her husband Nick Jonas arrive in Udaipur to attend pre-wedding celebrations of Isha Ambani, daughter of the Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, December 8, 2018. Reuters

The pre-wedding festivities hosted by Ambani and his wife, Nita, began on Saturday in Udaipur, a north Indian city famous for its palaces, and drew celebrities from around the world.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poses with Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Industries, and his wife Nita Ambani after her arrival in Udaipur to attend pre-wedding celebrations of their daughter Isha Ambani in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, December 8, 2018. Reliance Industries/Handout via REUTERS

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poses with Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Industries, and his wife Nita Ambani after her arrival in Udaipur to attend pre-wedding celebrations of their daughter Isha Ambani in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, December 8, 2018. Reliance Industries/Handout via REUTERS

The A-list guests included former secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who reportedly danced to bhangra, a type of pop music from India’s Punjab region.

Oh, and Beyoncé flew in to perform a 45-minute private concert, with several costume changes.

(At one point, Bollywood megastar Salman Khan appeared on stage behind members of the Ambani family, prompting some to joke on Twitter that he had been relegated to the role of backup dancer.)

Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih (L) arrives in Udaipur to attend pre-wedding celebrations of Isha Ambani, daughter of the Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, December 8, 2018. Reuters

Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih (L) arrives in Udaipur to attend pre-wedding celebrations of Isha Ambani, daughter of the Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, December 8, 2018. Reuters

Saturday’s event overwhelmed Udaipur, as the Ambanis’ guests took over the city’s hotels and clogged its tiny airport. Even Mumbai’s international airport set a record for traffic on Saturday, as dozens of private chartered flights made their way north.

One wedding guest, who did not want to be identified discussing the Ambani family’s private affairs, said that invitations came in a Dolce & Gabbana box, adorned with pink and gold lace and detachable chains that could be worn as jewellery.

She added that the Udaipur event appeared to have about 2,000 guests. One highlight was a Bollywood dance number that the bride’s mother, Nita, performed with her two sons, Akash and Anant.

Former Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and his wife Anjali arrive at the airport to attend pre-wedding celebrations of Isha Ambani, daughter of the Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, in Udaipur, in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, December 8, 2018. Reuters

Former Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and his wife Anjali arrive at the airport to attend pre-wedding celebrations of Isha Ambani, daughter of the Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, in Udaipur, in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, December 8, 2018. Reuters

Mukesh Ambani’s father, Dhirubhai Ambani, was a schoolteacher’s son who created a business empire in India at a time when most large-scale private enterprises there were stifled by government controls. His firm, Reliance Industries, eventually came to be seen as the face of India’s industrial renaissance.

When Dhirubhai Ambani died, his sons Mukesh and Anil fought over control of the empire. Mukesh ultimately got the petroleum and plastics business and Anil got telecommunications and financial services.

Mukesh leveraged his portion of Reliance to build a new phone carrier, Reliance Jio, that has upended the industry by offering unlimited calls and lots of data for $2 a month. The price war devastated Anil’s telecom company.

Setting aside their business rivalries, the brothers jointly greeted wedding guests in Udaipur.

People walk past a security vehicle parked outside the decorated gate of Antilia, the house of the Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, ahead of Mukesh's daughter wedding, in Mumbai, India, December 7, 2018. Reuters

People walk past a security vehicle parked outside the decorated gate of Antilia, the house of the Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, ahead of Mukesh's daughter wedding, in Mumbai, India, December 7, 2018. Reuters

The wedding ceremony is planned for Wednesday at Mukesh Ambani’s 27-story home, which towers over southern Mumbai and includes a six-level parking garage and three helipads. (Clinton dined at the tower in March while visiting the city to speak at a conference, the Indian news media reported.)

The celebrations this week will also include a ceremony at Piramal’s father’s home in Mumbai, and a reception at JioGarden, an event space in Mumbai built by Ambani’s company.

A view of illuminated Oberoi Udaivilas hotel, the venue for pre-wedding celebrations of Isha Ambani, daughter of the Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, is seen in Udaipur, in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, December 8, 2018. Reuters

A view of illuminated Oberoi Udaivilas hotel, the venue for pre-wedding celebrations of Isha Ambani, daughter of the Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, is seen in Udaipur, in the desert state of Rajasthan, India, December 8, 2018. Reuters

Not everyone in India is excited; some critics said on social media that the extravaganza was unseemly in a country with so much poverty.

A report last month by the Paris-based World Inequality Lab found that the richest 10 percent of India’s population controlled 63 percent of its wealth in 2012, up from 45 percent in 1981.

© 2018 New York Times News Service