Indian marriage: wedding proposals meet Bollywood

MUMBAI, India — He hired a helicopter to hover over his girlfriend’s building ($1,300) while musicians serenaded her from below ($335). He threw rose petals from the sky, then proposed with a diamond ring (5 carats). She said yes (priceless).

A typical Indian wedding involves hundreds of guests, days of festivities and countless glittery outfits. But for many of India's wealthiest young lovers, a traditionally extravagant wedding is no longer fabulous enough. It's the proposal that really needs to sparkle.

From private yachts to personalized action movie sequences, more and more young lovers are popping the question with increasingly elaborate — often borderline outlandish — theatrics. One groom-to-be got a nightclub to stop the music long enough for him to propose to his girlfriend in front of a crowd that chanted on cue: “Say yes! Say yes!”

Enter the Mumbai company that offers to help its clients make their wildest wedding proposal dreams come true.

“We’re giving you what you dream,” said Bhabesh Mehta, the 28-year-old founder of MyGenie, which he describes as a personal occasion management company. “You tell me the weirdest thing; I can make it happen for you.”

Once MyGenie, which started last February, receives an order, the company sends the client a questionnaire to better understand the couple and the relationship. MyGenie then works with the client to create his or her dream proposal.

MyGenie prides itself on crafting proposals that feel unique to a couple, Mehta said. He sees the trend in innovative proposals as a reflection of Indian society opening up. People want to experiment with ideas that are fun and even a little naughty, he said.

One recent scheme might better be described as slightly insane.

A man hired MyGenie to develop a Bollywood-inspired kidnapping that lasted almost six hours. After informing the woman’s parents what was happening, MyGenie had men dressed like goons gag the woman, drive her somewhere she didn’t know and then call the boyfriend and make fake ransom demands.

As the woman cried for help, her boyfriend broke down a door and “rescued” her like in the movies. He then got down on one knee and proposed. Perhaps the biggest miracle was that she said yes.

The “light kidnapping,” as Mehta called it, cost the boyfriend 17,000 rupees ($386).

As India’s wealth grows, so does the amount of money families put into marrying off their children. India’s elite choose destination weddings — which often include paying for guests’ accommodations and flights — in places like Tuscany and Mauritius, according to the latest issue of Conde Nast Traveller India. A newly rich farmer in a suburb of New Delhi hired a helicopter to bring his son to the bride’s village.

“We’re definitely seeing weddings getting more extravagant,” said Divya Chadha, director of the Mumbai-based event and wedding planning company AKA: A Klass Apart. “The average Indian wedding right now for an upper middle-class family will cost you nothing less than 1 crore [$222,000.]”

One surprise MyGenie has found since its launch is that about 60 percent of its clients are women, Mehta said. Just before Christmas, the company helped a woman propose by holding up signs proclaiming her love that her boyfriend saw as he drove the 8-kilometer stretch from his home to his office.

Female clients, who tend to be younger and still in school, spend less than men, Mehta said. While men pay upwards of 78,000 rupees ($1,730), women spend on average 12,500 rupees ($280).

Some wedding planners who cater to Mumbai’s wealthy now also provide proposal services. Most couples still go the traditional route of having some version of a ring ceremony and formal family affair, but there has slowly been an increase among the upper class in romantic and creative proposals, according to Chadha.

“You are seeing it grow as people take in concepts from the West,” she said.

Creative wedding proposals have also begun to creep into arranged marriages, still very common in India. Some couples have used the time between the official engagement coordinated by the two families and the wedding as a courtship period.

Clients have hired MyGenie to help them add a romantic angle to their arranged marriage, Mehta said. Organizing a sweet surprise enables couples to bridge the communication gap often initially present in arranged marriages and make their relationship less formal.

“You break the arranged mode and get into the love mode,” he said.

Radhika Rao hadn’t decided if she was going to have an arranged marriage or a so-called love marriage, until she met Emmanuel. They were both leaving a workout at Gold’s Gym in the northern suburb of Bandra. As she ran to catch the elevator, he held it for her.

Eighteen months of dating later, Radhika went to Washington, D.C., to visit her relatives. Just before Christmas, Emmanuel flew from Mumbai to D.C. for a 48-hour trip to surprise Radhika with an elaborately orchestrated proposal that involved candles, romantic music and her favorite champagne.

As Emmanuel held Radhika’s hand, her two young nieces came into the room holding the engagement ring in a box. Emmanuel took the ring, got down on one knee and proposed.

“It was like a fairytale,” said Radhika.

Follow Hanna on Twitter: @Hanna_India.