The union of two souls in marriage is a part of every culture, as a civic bond as well as an emotional and spiritual one, but I can’t imagine any wedding ceremony anywhere more colorful, exuberant and moving than the one we filmed in rural India.
Forget the heat—after a number of subsequent days of temperatures that hovered above one hundred ten, we took the one hundred twenty degrees beneath the wedding tent in somewhat sweaty stride. The pageantry made up for it; over one thousand guests gathered to sit on rugs spread beneath a vast covering of red canvas, men in white on one side, children and women in a rainbow palette of saris on the other. Although strikingly odd to our American eyes, in most occasion, social and private, there is a distinct separation of the genders, and though commingling is not discouraged, in the formal setting, it is always men on one side, women on the other.
The chance to be a part of this affair—a colorful midway point between the extravagance of a storybook wedding and the deeply significant traditions of India—the marriage of Poonam Gundre and Nivratti Khandade was a ‘world’ moment across that allowed us, as filmmakers, to record slices of life which seem both impossibly exotic and oddly familiar. Like most Hindu weddings, the ceremony can’t be understood purely along religious lines, and is said to resemble the sort of alliances formed in ancient Greece and Egypt. Mehndi is seen on virtually everyone’s hands and feet; it is the application of temporary henna tattoos in patterns so intricate that they may border on the astonishing, especially those that graced the bride. The groom wore a more subdued version, which looked like a bursting sun on his palm.
The costumes, not only of the bridal couple, but of the guests were outrageously beautiful, like stage costumes. Such festive garb included our host Avinash Rachmale, of course… Poonam is Avinash’s niece, the daughter of his sister Sulochana Gundre and her husband Baburao Gundre. As tradition dictates, Poonam wore a red sari draped modestly over her hair and Nivratti was dressed in a kafni, a long shirt which extended to his knees, with pijamo leggings and a turban.
Most remarkably, during the actual service, the altar was loaded down with people, participants or observers, children, photographers, friends as well as members of the wedding party. It is safe to say that nobody in the ‘congregation’—all outdoors, under a canopy known as a mandap—saw a single moment of the actual uniting of Poonam and Nivratti. This wonderfully good-natured rubbernecking was miles removed from the somewhat sobering church or synagogue marriages most of us had witnessed in the past, where folks sit quietly, and most assuredly in their assigned seats. But the human emotions that accompanied Poonam and Nivratti’s life transition; the nerves, the tears, the unbridled joy experienced by both families, were universal.