“Imagine Deepika Padukone, who has seen herself under Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s lighting with her make-up and hair done by ace artists. How do you impress her with a wedding film?!” asks Vishal Punjabi, in the middle of our chat about wedding films, and the differences between filming celebrity weddings and ordinary people’s weddings.
Punjabi’s question is more than valid and it’s apparent that there is nobody more qualified to answer it other than himself as he has made a career out of making brides and grooms look like they’re in their own movies (not Bhansali lit, as he notes).
“Everyone wants a nice memory. Normal people don’t attend glamorous events like awards and they want something nice to remember as they celebrate years down the line,” he says, “Nobody knew how to make films in the wedding space. Anyone who knew filmmaking was making Bollywood movies or ad films. I took everything I remembered from advertising and put it towards filming weddings.”
Punjabi began his career in advertising which led him to work with Shah Rukh Khan for 10 years. But an experiment at his own wedding led him on a path that would see him change the face of wedding videography and photography forever.
“When I started The Wedding Filmer, people said ‘What is wrong with you? Why are you quitting your job with Shah Rukh Khan to shoot shaadis?’ But I saw potential in this,” he says and he couldn’t be more right. Whether it was Punjabi’s foray into wedding videography or our film-obsessed natures, wedding films became a thing and The Wedding Filmer was at the forefront of the movement.
“You’ll notice that our wedding films are structured like regular movies. They have an introduction, a middle, and a conclusion. We create a background score for the film. It’s got a story and an engagement factor. The idea is to make you feel something because it’s all about heightened emotions compressed into five minutes. It tends to get pretty overwhelming and I get messages from brides and grooms who say they felt better than how they felt on the actual wedding day while seeing the film,” he says.
So what goes on behind making a “life-changing” wedding film? A whole lot of conversations, according to Punjabi.
“If it’s a love story, then friends are really integral to the story, or if it’s an interfaith marriage, then the story of how they broke the news to their parents is really important for the film. I’m just generalising here. Each kind of love story dictates the kind of film we end up making. There is no fixed format that we follow, but there are a set of questions we ask each couple to get to know their story.”
Punjabi goes on to insist that nothing in his wedding films is ever scripted. “If I script it, it becomes my memory of their wedding. Even during the talking bits, we’re just having a casual conversation on camera. I don’t tell them what to say. I’ve become the Larry King of Indian weddings!”
It’s no surprise that Punjabi ultimately found his calling in a career that’s inherently romantic in nature. “I started out my career by working with SRK, so there’s always been a bit of romance in my work, especially because he’s the King of Romance,” he says, adding that he has always been a romantic, even while growing up. “I’ve seen my mother and father get divorced, get married to other people, and then 15 years later, get married to each other again. It’s quite a love story. No wonder I do this for a living!”
Punjabi honed his unique ability to transform seemingly-ordinary moments into something that seems like it should be screened on a 70mm screen while working closely with some of the top filmmakers in the country. “Working with Farah Khan on Main Hoo Na, Amol Palekar on Paheli, Farhan Akhtar on Don, and Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti on Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. taught me different things about onscreen sensitivity and filmmaking.”
The videographer has filmed some of the most iconic celebrity weddings of recent times, including Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma’s, and Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone’s. He is also the brains behind the stunning wedding sequences in movies and shows like Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani and Made in Heaven.
While he refrained from revealing wedding anecdotes from the aforementioned ceremonies, he did share the changes he has to make in his own process while filming their weddings. “You have to go the extra mile to make them feel better than how they did on their wedding day and give them a memory they can cherish forever. That’s what makes me nervous because I’m constantly thinking about what can I do to make him or her happy about remembering this time and be proud of the film.”
Punjabi boasts over a decade of experience in the wedding space and has been a part of a wide variety of ceremonies, across cultures. It’s safe to say that he would know a thing or two about what makes a wedding video super special.
“When you have an ensemble cast in a movie, it eats into the main story of the bride and groom. So try and have as few people as you can in your wedding film,” he says, adding, “If you’re incorporating music in your wedding film, be smart about it. Think about the song on which you’re going to enter, or if you have live music at the event, make sure you are clear on how you want it to appear on film.”
He also suggested that more brides should go for a western-style reception, as opposed to the usual which has the bride and groom planted on stage with a line of people waiting to meet them and click a photograph with them. “Champagnes, cake, and toasts are much better for filming and remembering in the future.”
In the end, he leaves us with the perfect answer to why everyone should go for a wedding film for their special day. “Everything is a blur at the wedding, so later when you sit with your loved ones and relive that day again through the film, it’s life-changing. You get to see a part of your wedding that you couldn’t witness yourself. It’s an experience that’s unlike anything you can buy.”