Bollywood influences Pakistani weddings

Sabahat Zakariya

Apr 12, 2019 12:45:45 IST

A few years ago I found myself at a wedding I couldn’t find an excuse to avoid, seated in front of the bride and groom whose tasteful wedding finery, the bride’s mother duly informed me, was made by an Indian designer and flown over especially from Dubai – the word ‘Indian’ often thrown around as a substitute for superior, particularly in the realm of jewellery and clothes. A child next to me who wanted to know when the ‘saat pheray’ would take place was, however, quickly shushed by his aunt for not knowing the difference between an Indian and a Pakistani wedding. This classic ambivalence towards India is illustrative of many a Pakistani wedding, most of whom can now appear directly imported from a Bollywood set.

But Bollywood’s centrality to Pakistani weddings is neither surprising nor new. The mehndi, the day the song and dance takes place on a grand scale used to be a day when women would gather around a dholak and sing folk or filmy songs. Today it has been largely replaced by choreographed dances performed exclusively on Bollywood songs. But even when singing was the central entertainment on mehndi day, Indian film songs formed a big chunk of the playlist. In a society that otherwise balks at the mention of Hindu deities or bhang, women would sit around a dholak singing Jai jai Shiv Shankar and Rang barsay bheegay chunar waali with the gusto of complete ownership. Rasool-e-paak ka saaya mubaarak ho, sung to the tune of Dev Anand’s Hai apna dil toh awara was sung to ritually kick off the mehndi festivity, and nobody ever commented on or cared for the irony.

In Pakistan, Indian and Hindu are terms often used interchangeably, and where Bollywood presence is a long cultural tradition in the country, it has recently found itself competing with the austerity drives of neo-Islamic movements that spurn elaborate ritual and material grandeur for simplicity and ease, often seen as an Islamic virtue. Many wedding rituals that no longer meet social approval are chucked aside with an admonitory, ‘This is a Hinduaana rasm’. Often it is impossible to say whether these ‘Hinduaana rituals’ are part of the syncretic tradition of the subcontinent or whether they have filtered into Pakistani weddings through an obsession for Bollywood. Joota chhupaai, for instance made so iconic by Hum Aapke Hain Koun was part of Pakistani weddings from much before that film released, however the recent spate of choli ghaghras that young girls have been sporting on weddings is definitely a Bollywood import. Elaborate, colourful rangolis at mehndis is another aesthetic addition that has travelled via Indian films, but some traditions such as aarsi mushaf, the ritual where the bride and groom supposedly see each other for the first time in a mirror placed in their lap are not just Bollywood-inspired but part of the Muslim culture that travelled from Uttar Pradesh with immigrants who migrated to Pakistan after partition.

Bollywood influences Pakistani weddings

Wedding scene in Band Baaja Baaraat


The one area where there is no confusion, however, is in the soundtrack to wedding events. In a country whose own film tradition has never been able to compete with India and whose home-grown pop music is too edgy for weddings, Bollywood songs permeate every strand of festivities here. Ever since Anushka Sharma chose it for her wedding, the de rigueur song for bridal entrances is Din shagnaan da charhya. Prior to that every mehndi entrance was accompanied by Mehndi hai rachnay waali from the Karisma Kapoor-starrer Zubeidaa. The mehndi stage, for more upscale weddings, is made of polished wooden slats bathed in disco balls and spotlights. Young men and women from either side compete with each other over choreographed dances performed to a medley of the latest Bollywood hits. The dance practices that all this necessitates sometimes last for months where young girls and boys play the songs they have chosen on YouTube and copy the moves of a Kareena, a Raveena or a Madhuri. Boys often wear co-ordinated clothes or at the very least scarves of the same colour and could be mistaken for extras on a Bollywood set.

In a society where discussion of sex among family members is still largely taboo, Bollywood also provides useful education on the birds and the bees. The bride looking down demurely with her lehnga spread out on the wedding bed is an image I associate strongly with the 80s Indian films I grew up watching, and that were faithfully re-enacted in real life by zealous bridesmaids and best men whose dreams of sex were just as frustrated and unrealistic as all who looked to Bollywood for sex education.

When things were a little less slick, wedding videos consisted of Indian songs played to psychedelic images of the food spread and rather unhappy-seeming brides and grooms looking like they had been dragged to their own weddings. Respectable young men and women from ‘good families’ did not display open affection lest someone think they had known each other beforehand and committed the cardinal sin of love marriage. Today, however, you could be forgiven for mistaking wedding videos for the latest Yash-Raj releases. The groom holds the bride in a sweeping gesture as her lehnga fans itself out for the camera that captures every detail of her elaborate designer jora. Slow motion takes of the bride twirling or looking heavenwards in rapture as the groom holds her aloft against his chest elaborately reimagine Shah Rukh and Kajol, Ranbir and Deepika.

As weddings increasingly move out of physical album pages on to social media, hashtag weddings and destination weddings are also becoming popular among those with money to throw around, or a situation where one half of the couple isn’t Pakistani or Muslim. Jetsetting off to Thailand is a convenient excuse to keep prying relatives away, as well as to do a glamorous re-enactment of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Bollywood is never far from the imagination when love, romance and marriage are contemplated in Pakistan.

Updated Date: Apr 12, 2019 12:45:45 IST

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