The Vancouver Sun

All in the family

Among the swirling array of blinged-out fuchsia, pink, green and yellow dresses at the wedding reception of Sonia and Aman Dhaliwal, one woman is wearing black: the wedding planner. With a clipboard and a headset, Harprit Patel makes it all happen.

After toasts, the shimmering draperies of white and gold cloth, the flower arrangements and the bride and groom’s table are whisked away, and the dais above the dance floor at Fraserview Hall is transformed into a nightclub. The DJ, Asad Khan, takes the mic. Lasers begin to whirl and flash. Patel rushes on to the crowded dance floor to slip the bride a comfortable pair of shoes and whisk away her heels. “We had that arranged,” says Patel.

Like most Indian weddings, the dancing tonight is going to be raucous, joyful and non-stop. The bride wanted to be prepared.

When Patel decided to start her wedding planning business four years ago, her friends and family told her to forget the South Asian market. “Indians don’t use wedding planners. Don’t do it.”

Her first year in business, the proprietor of Always & Forever Weddings had three weddings. This year, she has 18, and she is booking well into the next two years. “It’s booming.”

Patel got into the business after helping her brother plan a wedding with 700 guests.

“Weeklong festivities. I booked everything, and there is one photo of me from the wedding with a clipboard in my hand,” she says. “I didn’t eat. Didn’t dance.”

Patel, a mother of two with a full-time career in HR, saw an opportunity, and business has snowballed.

Khan — a.k.a. DJ Khanvict — one of the Lower Mainland’s hottest wedding DJs, is working five events in a row with Patel and will soon be jetting off to Mexico with her, a local couple and a host of other service providers to create a Sikh wedding in Mexico. Khan, who won DJ of the year at the 2013 South Asian wedding awards, is already taking inquiries for 2017, and often has clients plan their wedding dates around his availability.

As a whole generation of Canadian-born Indian children comes of age in the Lower Mainland, a major industry has sprung up around cross-cultural wedding traditions.

For vendors that provide everything from floral arrangements, turban tying, rental horses, decor, catering, gold, diamonds, gowns, the growth in the industry is a gold mine.

“It’s just getting bigger and bigger every single year,” says Patel. “We’re doing outdoor weddings and Sikh destination weddings and all the elements, like photo booths, candy bars and food stations where they are frying samosas right on the spot, Indian sweets coming fresh out of the oil right onto your plate.”

The benefit of using a wedding planner, adds Patel, is the ability to negotiate discounts with suppliers: “Indians love a deal, especially when they are spending a lot of money and hosting a big crowd.”

Pardeep Sahota, who launched the first South Asian Wedding Awards in 2013, says the wedding boom is all part of the “Indian fever” that was sparked by the Times of India Film Awards held in Vancouver last year, which gave local South Asian vendors and event organizers an international showcase.

“Indian vendors want and deserve to be recognized in the mainstream,” says Sahota.

Business is booming for Glimmer Films, which shoots up to 50 Indian weddings a year. For Sonia and Aman’s temple wedding, the company conducted a same-day edit of the footage so the final product could be shown at the couple’s reception. The company’s producer, Corey Ogilvie, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on social justice causes, but he caught the Indian wedding fever.

“I love it. The impulse to party and celebrate is so great. About 40 per cent of an Indian wedding is dancing,” he says.

“When I started, I was scared. As a Caucasian, I thought I would be an outcast, but the culture is so welcoming. They insist that you have tea, that you eat, that you be fully involved. During the wedding ceremony at the temple, we don’t understand a thing, but we have it all memorized and know every moment to capture.”

Hospitality venues like the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver are taking notice. Nikki Goodwin, catering sales manager at the Four Seasons, is working with Patel to establish relationships with Indian vendors and hopes to generate South Asian business. Some of the unique aspects of Indian weddings — the size, and the issue of feeding a large crowd that doesn’t RSVP — are challenging for a hotel, Goodwin admits. But more and more, “fusion” is the name of the game, and the hotel is in talks with a top Indian chef to design specialty wedding menus. “Many South Asian brides are wanting to do something more luxurious, more service-oriented, and we’re looking to find the partnership with something that is more modern and different.”

Patel is proud of the choice she made to specialize in cross-cultural weddings.

“When we work together, when everything falls into place, the music, the decor, the magic of the night, it’s indescribable,” she says.

For those who don’t use a wedding planner, the South Asian Wedding planner, produced by Vicki Singh, (available for free at has become a go-to resource for cultural celebrations (including Filipino, Chinese, Interfaith, Persian and Muslim), and at 364 pages, its heft is an indication of just how rich the traditions and how big the industry serving them has become.