A recent episode of Culture Clash Weddings, according to the synopsis, began “with a ‘typical’ American couple getting a free wedding. However, what Kristin & Brandon from Los Angeles don’t know is that the free wedding they’re getting is going to be a traditional Indian marriage ceremony…” complete with havan and seven steps. I watched the one-hour show when it aired as a part of the ‘WE Go Bridal Week’ last month (it was re-broadcast on Sunday – watch the 2 minute promo here).
The couple, one of thirty who auditioned for the show, were told to “Give up the white dress… and the cake,” by executive producer Fernando Mills. With less than three weeks before their wedding and the camera up close, Kristin and Brandon headed out to meet their mentors, Neha and Rooshi.
“They were down-to-earth and funny and they bickered. They were just like us and that was so comfortable” Kristin recalls. When asked how she got used to her the idea of the offbeat Hindu wedding, she says “It was different and unique and that Brandon was so excited about it meant a lot to me… and the fact that we didn’t have to pay for anything was a huge blessing. But I did feel obligated to go through all the motions and try everything. I am one of those people, try something, give it a chance,” she adds.
Brandon, relatively unruffled, says “I was definitely less stressed because there was such a short period of time involved between us getting chosen for the show and actually having our wedding. And we had very little decision making to do.” His favorite part of the wedding was reading their vows in the mandap he designed and built for their wedding. “My step-mother, Pam was so happy to find out after watching the show that I included the 6 additional pieces on top of the mandap, which stood as symbols of each of our parents (including my step-parents who both had big parts in raising me).”
Brandon not only embraced the symbolism of the Hindu wedding rituals, he layered it with further meaning from his personal life experiences. Kudos too, to Neha and Rooshi, also recently wed, for foregrounding the essence of wedding rituals.
Neha who also directed the pre-wedding rituals, confesses “I enjoyed enforcing the whole family unity theme… explaining each role of the family members, how important that is and shouldn’t be forgotten. I felt really good coming through to them.” Fernando had met the Indian American couple at a South Asian Wedding Expo in Los Angeles early last year.
Neha, an electrical engineer is also a hair, make-up and mehndi artist and did all three for the bride. Kristin was a little skeptical about wearing red and the makeup, especially the red lipstick and the eyeliner. “I told her we’d change anything she didn’t like. But as she saw her whole look come together piece by piece, she did really well, and she really liked it… she looked beautiful… she felt beautiful.” says Neha. She didn’t however, have to prepare Kristin to walk the aisle in her Indian threads. “She has good posture, she’s charming looking… she’s a beautiful lady.”
I asked Fernando, who conceived the idea for the show and orchestrated it neatly, why he started with an Indian culture clash wedding. He said, “I’ve always been a huge fan of Hindu wedding celebrations. It’s really beautiful, meaningful. Every single step along the way has a lot of meaning and really does bring two families together.” What he doesn’t admit is that perhaps, he was lured by the success of Bollywood weddings in the US and–let’s admit it–the image of the elephant.
But how important is it to include a religious wedding ceremony? Does going the whole nine yards remove the exotic element or does it merely redefine it? Is staying on the peripheries with the dance, food and costume more respectful or less so?
For Fernando, going through the ceremony ensures the impact of the event on the couple’s life. “But in a ceremony you are standing in front of everybody you know and love. They’re all there. By doing that you are lending meaning to it and creating a community around it. That’s what its all about… without the ceremony there would be no meaning to it at all.”
“The encounter between cultures is never easy,” says Sumita Chakravarty, associate professor in the media studies program at the New School University in New York.”I suppose the challenge is to get past the exoticism and strangeness associated with Indian weddings and other rituals for a kind of cultural immersion, for participants and viewers alike. As such, the show seems full of possibility.”
The show has worked well for those involved. Since the show aired Neha’s received email requests for wedding planning and is still considering the possibility. Fernando’s still hasn’t slotted for the second episode though entries for the wedding have continued to pour in.
As for Kristin and Brandon and their families, the wedding was a bundle of experiences they never thought they’d have. They met with an astrologer, enjoyed a tantric kiss and hosted a mehndi party. Kristin pierced her nose. Brandon rode an elephant. Kristin’s parents dressed in Indian clothes. Brandon’s father wore a turban. And like any reality show, a few conflicts, raw emotions and tears spiced up the show. But everyone came out smiling and with a wealth of photographs and memories to share.
Tell us what you think about the concept and execution of the show.