Indians are obsessed with weddings and obsessed with reality television. Now Shagun TV, a new television channel headquartered in a sprawling suburb of India’s capital, is hoping it has found a “can’t-be-missed” idea — merging the two into a 24 hour matrimonial TV station.
Shagun TV can itself seem obsessed. Artwork on the windows of its lobby depict an Indian wedding procession, with turbaned men beating drums and an elephant-drawn carriage carrying the groom. In the main TV studio, a large cardboard astrology chart lies against a wall, used by one host to answer wedding and relationship questions. And a plasma television loops video of a bridal ceremony.
Then there are the programs. There is a bridal makeover show, a show featuring dreamy honeymoon destinations and one on the often-fraught relationship between mothers and daughters-in-law. There is Gold n’ Beautiful that showcases bridal jewelry. Coming soon are marriage-themed soap operas.
“There is no reining in the penchant for [wedding] celebrations in India,” said Dheeraj Sinha, author of Consumer India: Inside the Indian Mind and Wallet.
“They are only becoming louder and more professional,” she said.
Media analysts say the channel is the first in India offering round-the-clock wedding entertainment. It looks to cash in on a big fat Indian wedding market valued at an estimated US$38 billion a year and expected to grow 25 to 30 percent annually, according to Alex Kuruvilla, Conde Nast India managing director, which publishes a string of luxury magazines.
The Indian wedding season, which starts next month and lasts until spring, can at times seem like a bridal invasion. Traffic grinds to a halt in major cities on wedding dates thought to be astrologically auspicious. On particularly lucky days, newspapers reported up to 60,000 couples tying the knot in New Delhi alone.
For centuries, Indian marriages were alliances between families of similar backgrounds, and the weddings were displays of status and wealth. In many ways, the quest for status is only intensifying as India’s economy grows.
Nidhi Gaur, 25, a recent guest on a Shagun talk show, said the TV channel has helped her prepare for her fairy-tale wedding.
“I can decide: ‘This is the place I want to buy my dresses, my jewelry,’” she said.
Nidhi’s family began saving for her wedding when she turned 18. Five hundred people are expected at her catered November nuptials at what she calls a “lavish five-star hall.”
If much of the channel is dedicated to astrology and matchmaking shows, it is also breaking privacy taboos by bringing on couples to openly share private details of their relationships. Yet do not expect US-style confessions. This is a family-friendly channel, where feel-good content is the rule.
In one talk show, So It’s Final, engaged couples share details about how they met, the qualities they like and dislike in one another and expectations of married life.
The show is designed as a “pre-marriage therapy session,” said Anuranjan Jha, Shagun TV managing director.
However, he acknowledges, there is no talk about sex or serious marital discord.
Its aim is not to create drama, but “to help in guiding how to lead a good life,” he said.
If things are fairly tame now, the show’s hosts intend to raise pricklier wedding issues, like dowry demands and inter-caste marriages.
Shagun TV says its aim is to give a platform to middle-class Indians who want to be in the spotlight.In fact, couples shell out between US$11,000 and US$19,000 to flaunt their multiday wedding festivities on the channel — with the price depending on how many nights of the celebration they want aired.
“You want to put your life on display more and more,” said Santosh Desai, a sociologist and writer.
“Earlier, your hierarchy was based on the community that you came from. As that becomes less and less important and as you become more cosmopolitan, how do you communicate who you are and where you have reached?” Desai said.