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Life/Recliner | Nov 9, 2011 | 29199 views

How to Marry a Millionaire

Weddings among India's wealthy is the ultimate spectacle of splurge
How to Marry a Millionaire
Image: Elizabeth Messina
GRAND AFFAIR London-based billionaire Pramod Agarwal’s daughter Vinita wed Muqit Teja in Venice

I

t isn’t called a big fat Indian wedding for nothing. It is when families — regardless of their social or economic standing — apply the full force of their bank accounts and social networks. It is when even the most tight-fisted and austere loosen their purse-strings. It is often a show of pomp a family prepares for years to put up.

But, among the wealthy, a wedding is all this, and much, much more. It is as much a social event, as a business gathering; the price tag of lehengas is as important as the finalising of multi-crore deals; the itinerary of wedding events needs as many organisers and planners as a convention of business leaders. And over-riding all this is sheer opulence. It is that ultimate statement of wealth, power and social standing.     

Finding a catch
The preparation begins with finding the right match.

Most people would never have heard of Pankaj Shastri. The man is unimposing and works out of a single-room office in New Delhi’s low-brow East of Kailash. But in his hands lie the futures of many of our country’s young billionaires. Shastri is in the lucrative business of match-making among India’s elite.

I meet Shastri at the Belvedere, the private members club of The Oberoi, New Delhi, where he will soon be meeting two families to finalise the “marriage deal”. Shastri claims to cater only to India’s wealthiest. His specialty, he says, is the ‘billionare caste.’

“I have been doing this for a decade now and, based on my experiences, I can say with absolute certainty that what matters most to these families is money and status,” he says. “Education and looks — even for a girl — are secondary. At the end of the day, it boils down to bank balances. At the very least, wealthy families want a financial equal.”

The disclaimer: “In the case of a divorcee or other dire circumstances, there is room for negotiation.” Dire circumstances here gently hint to the possibility of family members serving terms in prison or having criminal cases filed against them, or a would-be bride or groom with a physical impairment.

“Usually, the negotiations will take place in the form of wedding budgets. Families have to agree on a budget that represents their status,” he says. Though he is reluctant to give details, Shastri says he gets paid a percentage of the wedding budget that is finalised.

What is the role of caste and community — crucial elements in most arranged marriages — in billionaire weddings? “There is no caste amongst these families anymore. Now, there is only one caste amongst them: The billionaire caste,” he says gravely. 

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Image: Elizabeth Messina
HALL OF FAME
London-based industrialist Pramod Agarwal’s daughter’s wedding venue in Venice

Shastri says these marriages often make for attractive business alliances. He speaks of his recent brokerage success, where the son of a steel tycoon married the daughter of one of the owners of M3M India, a real estate group.

“This is a very good business alliance for both families. Steel is very good for the construction business,” says Shastri, with a proud smile. “It was the first Rs. 100 crore wedding I arranged. It took place in Turkey, and was celebrated in a way worthy of the families’ status.”

But are bank balances the only crucial factor in weddings among India’s wealthiest?

I meet Scion (as he is known among his friends), the son of a South Mumbai business family who recently got married in a lavish five-day wedding at Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan Palace.

A popular Mumbai wedding broker introduced him to the woman who would be his wife, soon after he returned to India after graduating from the London Business School.  After many years in the US and the UK, and after dating a bevy of women, was he comfortable with a bride his family had selected?

“The kind of girl I would choose is also the type of girl my parents would choose. So, for me it was not a problem at all,” he said. “Also, meeting girls through your family makes life much easier, given the joint family model of most industrialist families. I was born into a joint family and my paradigms are shaped that way. It is like this for most of my friends too. Money matters to the extent that it is easier to get along with someone with the same kind of background and exposure, but it is certainly not all about that.”

This article appeared in the Forbes India magazine issue of 18 November, 2011
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