What would you expect a bride-to-be doing just a few days before her wedding? Shopping and dreaming about her new life — most of you would think. But there are few who do some soul searching before taking this big step. They want to find a meaning and reason in every single step they take for their big day. Bal Brach, a CBC journalist, too was one of them.
Unlike a conventional bride who would be running around to decide her wedding trousseaus or venues, Brach was uncovering a surprising side of marriages in her Punjabi culture. The journey of her own wedding inspired her to make a documentary on Indian weddings in Lower Mainland that was aired in July on CBC. It is now making waves in various national and international film festivals. It was also part of the Delhi International Film Festival that was held in India’s capital in the first week of December.
Brach’s documentary Little India’s Big Business talks about the booming wedding industry and the phenomenal costs attached to a big fat Indian wedding. Whether it’s hair and make-up artists charging thousands of dollars for services and booking three years in advance, or venue owners who “wanted to bring Las Vegas style Parties to Surrey, B.C.,” the documentary reveals the pressures that young Canadians of South Asian descent face when planning their weddings — not only from close family connections, but also the community as a whole. It highlights how lucrative these celebrations are for wedding vendors, the lengths they go to ensure their clients’ needs are met, and the cost of this commercialisation on the sanctity of marriage.
Brach comes from a Punjabi family. Her parents immigrated to Canada from Punjab in 70s. She was raised in South Vancouver. Though, a Canadian by birth, like most of the Punjabi kids, she was introduced to her own culture gradually. While growing up she adopted best of both the cultures. She remained grounded and appreciated her culture and values. But being a Canadian she learned to be independent and questioned what didn’t seem right in her culture. It was this spirit to reason out and question, that turned into a documentary that has now brought up the issue of wedding expenses into public domain. An issue that pinches every Indian family but has never been discussed openly since Indians connect big wedding with a matter of pride and reputation.
The question about having a big wedding popped up in Brach’s family too, when she decided to get married. “When I decided to get married, we started discussing what kind of wedding we wanted. I never wanted a big wedding. I did not want to stand in front of 800 people,” she says.
Brach’s parents too wanted to organize a big wedding. It was at that time Brach started questioning the need for calling 800 to 1000 people. She started researching how much the wedding would cost. “I was stunned to hear the average cost of an Indian wedding in Canada is $100,000 — and most of the time, it’s hard working, immigrant parents footing the bill for week long celebrations. My jaw hit the floor, when I heard the costs. There was no way I could get married in Lower mainland with a small budget. Plus all the make-up artists, Gurdwaras, Venues were booked. We had to wait for an year or two if we wanted to have a wedding in Lower Mainland,” she says.
Brach ended up having a destination wedding in Jamaica with 85 people. “We spent around $50,000. It was still a lot more than an average Canadian wedding. But less than what it could have cost us if we were getting married in Vancouver,” she says. She describes the stressful days before her wedding, when no priest from Vancouver was ready to fly to Jamaica since the Gurdwaras here do not permit their priests to perform wedding rituals outside Gurdwara premises. “We found a priest who flew from Texas to do the rituals.”
Brach got engaged and married, during the three year process of making the documentary. Her own reluctance to have a big wedding ended up in this eye-opening documentary that does not just talk about the cost attached to the wedding, but explores various aspects of getting married like spiritual connections between the couples, the meanings of the rituals performed during marriage, also increasing social pressure on couples and their parents about having a big wedding.
Although the documentary talks about big weddings it does not project them in a negative image since the increasing wedding business is supporting so many businesses. It takes a mid way. “I do not want to show that those who have grand wedding should be looked down. But my documentary wants to send a message that those who want to have a small wedding should have an option and should not feel the social pressure,” she says.
The 45 minutes documentary starts with a description of Indian weddings and how grand, extravagant they are. There are weeklong festivities with a 1000 people attending the wedding and at least 100,000 dollars involved in expenses. It beautifully explains the reason behind inviting 1000 guests. Indian weddings are not just about couple getting married, but about two families coming together. Arvinder Grewal a certified councillor, and author of the book Weddings Around The World: Sikh Weddings explains the reason behind this big gathering. She says in the documentary that in olden days marriages were an occasion to bring the village community together. Over a period, time and place has changed, but people still follow these ceremonies.
The film then discusses how young generation is struggling to come to terms with the fact that they had to spend so much money in one single day to follow a ritual of calling so many people. Brach features an Indian couple in her documentary, in which the groom has his own reason of having a big wedding, where as the bride wants to have a small close wedding. The groom who is a doctor says that inviting so many guests is “my way of giving back to my friends.” Though at the end the bride who was initially reluctant to stand in front of a large gathering, agrees to have a big wedding because she found a spiritual connect with her partner. She discovers that the ceremonies performed amidst these festivities brought her much closer to her partner.
Finding a meaning and connection with your partner is one of the greatest aspect of getting married. But Brach says that during her research she discovered couples are engrossed so much in the celebrations that they forget to look for the true meaning of marriage which is commitment and responsibility. “The wedding itself is becoming more important than the marriage,” Brach says. “Either you have a big or small wedding, find spiritual connection with your partner. Picture the reality beyond the big day. The grand weddings make you feel like a princess, but be ready to face the reality that next day you would be just another ordinary couple.”
Brach feels that the grand celebrations and the party sometimes distract couples from the spiritual aspect of the marriage. It is due to this reason the divorce rate is increasing in the Indo-Canadian community. There is no data to support this argument but who so ever she talked to agreed that the young generation is not thinking before taking this big step. They do not know why they are getting married.
Her documentary features interview of a priest Baltej Singh Dhillon. He says it is important for you to understand the spiritual meaning of the marriage before you get married instead of the day you get married. Experience some aspect of spirituality before you come to take spiritual blessings on the wedding day. “Because if you have never understood it and your wedding is the first day you are looking to experience it, it is not good. There is no more looking back after that day. I insist that I have conversations with couples before I perform the wedding ceremony because I saw there were gaps. There was lack of deep understanding in connection to what they were about to get into,” says the priest.
But as a couple if you know what you are doing, a big wedding makes complete sense to parents, community and even the economy. Brach’s documentary has featured so many success stories of individuals who have made it big all because of the grand Indian weddings — be it make-up artists, costume designers, decor companies, wedding DJs, or wedding planners. The documentary also mentions that the business is booming so much that even the Western vendors want to enter the market.
This is the first feature length documentary written, directed and produced by Brach. She has spent the past ten years working as a journalist in newsrooms across Canada. “As someone who avoided Indian weddings most of my life, it’s ironic that I’ve spent the last three years immersed in this crazy world,” she says.