National

Weddings Like Cinema

Known as ‘The Wedding Filmer’ guy, also the name of his video company, Vishal Punjabi, and his team has filmed weddings for the richest, fanciest, and coolest people across the globe and nearly the entirety of the Bollywood fraternity.

The Wedding Filmer Team
Wedding filmmaker Vishal Punjabi capturing a bridal entry. Photo: The Wedding Filmer Team
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Bollywood royalty Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh’s short teaser of their dreamy but fiercely private wedding had millions of teary-eyed fans swooning in collective sighs. The previously unseen footage of the two lovebirds laughing and dancing lost in each other's eyes, Singh’s childlike glee as he gushed about his undying love for his fiancee, an ethereal Padukone blushing coyly and decking up in traditional jewels, all set against the stunning scenery of Lake Como and the haunting background of Ik Onkar chant, convinced even the naysayers to believe in forever love. 

The viral four-minute clip edited out of a three-and-a-half-hour-long wedding film, if ever released in theatres will be a guaranteed blockbuster. In all probabilities, Padukone and Singh will retain their real-life romance for private screening only. The cinematic rendition of their wedding film was not fronted by any big Bollywood production house or director but masterfully captured on hand-held Sony cameras by filmmaker Vishal Punjabi and his two videographers. 

“It’s all real, nothing was made up,” Punjabi (43) says about the gala affair where guests were compelled to surrender their phones and cameras at the venue. “Every smile, every tear, every hand gesture, and the raised eyebrows, were real expressions. We were just able to capture it intimately.” He and his two team members Abhijit Datta and Jinesh Maru who camouflaged themselves in wedding attires and blended among the guests were the only ones trusted to film the Konkani and Sindhi wedding ceremonies and also Mehendi, Sangeet, and the couple’s engagement. 

Known as ‘The Wedding Filmer’ guy, also the name of his video company, Punjabi, and his team has filmed weddings for the richest, fanciest, and coolest people across the globe and nearly the entirety of the Bollywood fraternity. From Virat and Anushka, Bipasha Basu-Karan, Kiara Advani-Siddharth Malhotra, Rakul Preet-Jacky Bhagnani, Patralekhaa-Raajkumar, Dia Mirza -Vaibhav, they have filmed the big day of celebrities in full-length movies.

The line-up of stars whom Punjabi has captured on screen makes him one of the greatest filmmakers of romance, pitting against giants like Yash Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and Karan Johar, even if none of his films will ever have a mass release.  

“I don’t direct anything. There is no script or format. We capture the real events in the form of a story as they take place complete with jitters, emotions, excitement, laughter, and tears,” he says. “That’s why each film differs, from the music to the treatment. Every wedding whether it is arranged or love, has a story, complete with the dance, drama, and music. It is like a movie we just try and capture it on the camera” Each film is given a musically distinct treatment with an original background score or a specially recorded song.

Born in Accra, Ghana in Africa, Punjabi learned the tricks of film-making from the best in Mumbai’s industry, as a creative director with actor Shahrukh Khan’s companies working on VFX and special effects, and later as an ad filmmaker. As an outsider, he struggled hard to carve a niche, gather his crew, find producers, and make movies on his own. 

The opportune happenstance came in 2010, during Punjabi’s wedding to writer (now ex-wife) Zara Chowdhary. Technology was changing around that time and small digital cameras had entered the market. The couple got their friends to shoot the ceremony on a compact handheld device and edited the videos in the form of a short film ‘Summer Vows.’ Within days of uploading it on YouTube, the candid video clip went viral. The two were bombarded with messages and calls from friends and acquaintances who wanted similar videos shot in a fun candid style. Overnight, they set up TWF studio from their flat and took on gigs to shoot real-life weddings like movie cinemas.  

Another close friend’s wedding video was turned into a full-fledged documentary  ‘Heartbeats’ which featured the Punjabi folk song ‘din shagna da’. The trailer of the video also picked up a hundred thousand views on YouTube and became India's first wedding film to enter the international film festival circuit. TWF was now churning out visual feasts and had cracked the success formula. 

Punjabi knew only one other filmmaker Raj Kumar Hirani who filmed wedding videos before making movies. He loved the small video cameras and the intimate experience they allowed him to film.

Indian weddings already offer a full sensory blend of celebration, beauty, colors, fashion, flowers, fragrance, lights, bling and music. For a large segment of middle and low-income class families, weddings are the only occasion to dress their finest, pray, dance, sing, and eat together. The subject and the story are present, Punjabi and his crew are like the fly on the wall of all the weddings, whose jobs are to capture the happenings. Gone are the days when local videographers would carry large bulky cameras, with a hot flash bulb and bulky hanging wires, marking attendance of the guests at the reception. Who doesn’t remember seeing the awkward shots of eating at the buffet? 

Punjabi decided to give weddings, a cinematic treatment. He would interview the bride and the groom, their families and friends, on how the marriage came to be arranged, how the couple fell in love, the challenges they faced, and their long journeys. “These people are telling me how they fell in love. We are documenting their past, their present, and the future. Years from now when the grandchildren see the video they will know how their grandparents felt, they will know how their family began and they will know their roots,” he says. 

He realised that despite India having a very thriving film industry and an equally big wedding industry, the two fields rarely came together and decided to bridge that gap.  “While cutting the tape at the editing table, I sensed that I could make real-life look like a movie, the dramatic images on the screen made my heart beat faster with excitement. People said I was mad but deep inside my heart I knew it was going to be successful.”

And that’s how Punjabi left Shahrukh Khan and Bollywood to make wedding videos. He has not just changed the wedding video industry but invented a new genre of real-life wedding films. TWF is among the top startup companies in the wedding industry which has emerged as the fourth-largest market in the economy with earnings of over Rs 4.74 trillion in 2023. 

From celebrities to rich business families, even common people aspire to have their wedding photos and videos to garner instant likes and viral fame on social media platforms. Brides are compromising on expensive lehenga and jewelry to bring Punjabi and his crew to capture their weddings as the experience will live forever. Some demand to make their wedding videos viral or recreate a bridal entry in the style of a Bollywood star.

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With hundreds of requests and messages asking him to, Punjabi has become selective in the choice of weddings he wants to film. Weddings involving animals are strictly avoided. In a year, his crew of 56 artists, covers 35 weddings which can be anywhere from exotic Andaman islands to the royal forts of Rajasthan, to offbeat locations like Tokyo and Sydney. 

 “I’ve created a monster. There are so many people imitating the way we film and wanting to have our signature filming style. It has now become a standard for every bride to have a bridal song at the entry, flower shower and wear kalire even if they are not Punjabi. I feel if you can make pop culture become a tradition, you know you’ve hit the big league. 

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If you have seen Punjabi’s work, it is hard not to get goosebumps or shed a tear for the couple. But Punjabi feels weddings should be intimate. “A lot of people we film are private. The best weddings are the ones you have not seen on Instagram. Some of my finest work is not in public but only for the couple.” 

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