Wedding Season, continued
Yes, okay, so where was I? Well, the evening before the wedding itself was another event usually referred to as the "ladies' sangeet". Apparently this was traditionally a sort of hen party for the women of the assembled families to sing and dance and make a fuss over the bride. The modern version is much the same basic idea but quite different in its details. For one thing, it's not just for ladies anymore; men and children participate too.
For another, they've really ramped up the production aspects. I suppose it used to be people doing more or less traditional songs and dances in a more or less traditional setting, but what we walked into was more like a music video studio. Music videos and the song-and-dance numbers of Bollywood movies have had a big impact, so the couple's friends and relatives perform their numbers on a stage at one end of a roofed open-air hall full of seats, complete with heavy amplification, colored spotlights, an emcee doing introductions and announcements, and even "stage mist" (how do they do that? dry ice?).
Naturally, with a setting like that, you don't just hop up onstage and wing it. Friends and relatives practice elaborate lip-syncing dance numbers (for all I know they could have been really singing too, but the recorded music coming out of the loudspeakers drowned them) which from the looks of them must have taken weeks if not months of rehearsal. The bride's girlfriends seemed to tend towards a blend of traditional dance (such as the Rajasthani "stick dances", where the dancers wave pairs of brightly painted sticks to tap out the rhythm and accentuate their arm movements) and pop-style "filmi" numbers. The preteen boys seem to favor music-video-influenced rap and rock songs. Some of the kids also act out little playlets based on Hindu legends and narrated by the emcee. Audience members show their appreciation by clapping and sometimes by getting up onstage to wave money over the performers' heads (this wards off the evil eye which might be jealous of their beauty and talent, and the bills go into a kitty for the bride and groom).
I'm trying to imagine my friends' and relatives' eight-to-thirteen-year-old children performing a choreographed dance number up on a studio stage in front of several hundred wedding guests. I'm trying to imagine their parents getting up on the stage and dancing with them. I'm trying to imagine the parents of the bride doing a number where they lip-sync and dance to a romantic Hindi film song. (All that, by the way, without a drop of alcohol, which has a rather low-class reputation in much of Indian society and is not served at social events like this one.) I'm not having much success imagining it, but it was certainly fun to watch. Then at the end of the rehearsed performances (during which the guests were wandering back and forth to the delicious buffet of Indian snacks and desserts and so forth) the center of the hall was cleared and everyone started dancing to the d.j.'s Indian-pop tapes. That part isn't so difficult to imagine transplanted to an American wedding.
Well, here it's the end of the second post and I haven't even got to the actual wedding yet. Next time...
—— Kim Plofker
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