When the Bollywood film Hum Aapke Hain Kaun! hit Pakistani small screens in 1994, it changed the concept of wedding celebrations, especially mehndis, forever. Over the next two decades they evolved from aunts and cousins belting out folk songs to the thump of a drum, a tambourine (and for some inexplicable reason, a spoon), to glamorous exhibitions of choreographed dances.
Wedding videos have undergone a similar evolution. Until the mid-noughties, wedding videography was pretty simple: point, shoot (close-up of khaloo enjoying the biryani was a must), jazz it up in the editing suite with some swirl effects and toss in a soundtrack composed of the latest Hindi film songs. These days, however, with the proliferation of filmmaking degrees and editing software that runs on personal computers, the wedding video has transformed from a mere documentation of the event into a polished film of near-theatrical finesse.
Syed Paiman Hussain, Founder and Director, Lollipop and Laddu, believes the relative affordability of the DSLR camera with its greater portability and superior picture quality has played a big role in changing the look of the wedding video. “In the earlier days, even if people wanted to add flair, they were restricted by the size and quality of their equipment.” Cameramen were hindered by the bulky machines, the light-wielding assistants, and the numerous extensions cords required to power everything. Because moving around was problematic, angles remained stationary for the most part and “the only thing they could really play with was the zoom lens.”
The most striking aspect of modern wedding videos is their cosy intimacy – softly lit shots of the bride adjusting her teeka, the groom smoothing his hair in the mirror one final time. Spontaneity on the dance floor and candid embraces replace awkward, unnatural posing. Achieving this, however, is a lengthy process.
For their narrative package ‘Aik thi lollipop, aik tha laddu’, Hussain strongly recommends beginning at least six months in advance. “For this video, we create a story built around the bridal couple with a voiceover by a beloved family member, usually the grandmother. We insist on personal meetings so we can have a sense of their personalities, and then we craft a script. This is followed by approvals and changes – and someone might go abroad, get caught up with something else, so it is very important to allow plenty of time.”
The cofounders of The Videographers explain their process starts with a Journey Form. “This is a brief for us. We follow up with one-on-one meetings where they tell us about themselves, their likes and dislikes, and we try to bring that individuality into the video.” This also includes providing fun props to play around with during the shoot.
Another trick up their sleeve is that “we always dress for the occasion.” For a reception they will arrive in crisp suits and for a dholki a shalwar kameez. By blending into the environment, they are able to keep guests from the ‘dreaded deer-caught-in-the-headlights’ stiffness that shows up in so many of the older videos.
Sometimes, though, the familiarity goes a little too far. “Seventy percent of the time clients are refined and respectful, and then we get these ridiculously rich families who call out, ‘Idhar aao, photographer!’”
Because of a few unsavoury incidents where The Videographers’ team (all university-educated urbane youngsters) was poorly treated, they no longer take bookings on the phone. It is now mandatory to have a meeting with the family – not just the bride and groom – before any contracts are signed.
On the pricing front, it is safe to say these videos don’t come cheap. Billing Rs 100,000 for coverage of one event is fairly standard, and well-heeled clients are prepared to shell out upwards of Rs 500,000 for a celebration lasting three or more days. Clients like to incorporate all sorts of elements to personalise their footage, with some requesting that the camera start rolling from the moment they land at the airport. Sometimes the more daring couples (“because it’s a cultural taboo,” say The Videographers, “usually they don’t want to disclose how they met.”) have asked to include a re-enactment of their first meeting. This means the camera team doesn’t just show up at the venue, record for a few hours, and leave; shots and angles must be planned in a proper pre-production process.
Billing Rs 100,000 for coverage of one event is fairly standard, and well-heeled clients are prepared to shell out upwards of Rs 500,000 for a celebration lasting three or more days.
However, despite the increasing willingness of people to open their wallets even wider, Hussain feels videography is still to be given the importance it deserves. According to him, people budget for weddings in the following order: dress, food, makeup, video. He says, “clients bring us Indian examples and ask for something similarly dramatic, but those videos are very time consuming to produce, and even though the wedding video will be kept forever, shown to other people and to future generations, people will invest much more effort in meeting the dress designer than the videographer.”
It is heartening to hear from both The Videographers and Hussain that (barring the occasional incident) the downmarket perception of the video waala is disappearing. “In the beginning,” say The Videographers, “we had trouble hiring people because kids who graduated from film school didn’t want to be associated with this. Initially even one of our co-founders’ father couldn’t believe it. He said, “I’m paying for you to go to film school to make wedding videos?”
Hisham Masood, filmmaker and Lecturer Film and Video, Indus Valley School of Arts, says that although it is challenging to shoot a wedding video – “From the drone operator to the steadicam operator, everyone has to be quick in capturing emotions; if the moment slips away, there is no retake,” – many student filmmakers still see it as a quick way to make easy money. “Others, however, have begun treating it as a serious professional choice.”
And the serious professionals are receiving some seriously fun benefits. At one wedding covered by The Videographers, “three brothers – a business guy, an engineer, and a mathematician who is developing his own app – couldn’t get over how cool our job was.” Even cooler is their upcoming assignment for which they will jet off to Spain.
“We are going to Barcelona to shoot a wedding,” say The Videographers.
“How many bankers get to do that?”
Sarwat Yasmeen Azeem is a DAWN staffer.