The Evolution of Wedding Photography in Kerala

I attended the wedding of a close friend recently and was struck by how far we Mallus had come as a society when it came to the art of wedding photography. The bride and groom had arranged for separate professional wedding photographers, as well as a separate group of ‘candid’ photographers. On top of this, three friends each of the bride and the groom had bought DSLRs recently and fancied themselves modern day Steve McCurrys. To add icing to the cake, every guest had brought their own smartphones and were merrily clicking away throughout the event. Even the bride gave in to temptation and took a selfie before the pujari could object. Thankfully, she remembered to include the groom in the selfie titled ‘ Tradition meets Romance – My Big Day !’

All this gave pause to yours truly. Over the years, weddings had ceased to be about the subjects themselves and more about those who surrounded them. Union of hearts and souls till death did them part became not so much important as the union of relatives and long lost friends, who found weddings a great excuse to get a few days off work. Even so, these events continued to be contained within the immediate family and friend circles, which for Mallus is still about 200 strong for an average family. There used to be just one additional group of people who were invited enthusiastically into the inner circle – the wedding photographers.

They were given carte blanche to cover the wedding ceremony without hindrance; freely allowed to go where they pleased and take what shots they wanted. The purpose of their existence was to capture in graphic detail those precious moments in time which would hopefully give the family a lifetime of sado-masochistic pleasure. Mom would forevermore inflict the wedding album on all visitors to their house. Supriya would sneak a peek ever so often to sigh at how much thinner she looked as a bride. Sugunan would sneak a peek ever so often to marvel at that luxurious head of hair he had on his wedding day. Grandma would scan the album over tea and biscuits, finding faults with the design of the necklaces worn by the guests and remembering how brilliantly decked out she was on her own wedding day. The bride’s dad would sneak a peek ever so often to remind himself how much money he had to waste on the wedding, all to invite that good for nothing Sugunan into his family. In short, wedding photographers were custodians of time and memory.  And they used to execute their duty with care, dignity and a certain dispassionate , even clinical, professionalism. However, as with many things in life, the evolution of society took a toll on this ancient guardians of memories as well.

The era before digital cameras – In the name of the craft (1950 – 2000s)

During this idyllic era, weddings were all about the bride, groom and the bride’s aunt who insisted on being present in all the wedding photos. Photographers managed to distill the art of wedding photography to an exact and methodical science, often sacrificing aesthetics for functionality, all in the name of the craft. So much so that wedding photos often followed a formulaic pattern. It would begin on the morning of the wedding, with one set of photographers each at the bride’s and groom’s house. Both the families would have contracted one studio each for the event, and they would go about their duties, covering the bride and the groom individually and later, collectively. The photos were broadly classified into 4 groups:

  1. Pre wedding dakshina photos – these were primarily shots of the bride and the groom offering dakshina to the elders in their family. The process involves offering them a betel leaf, betel nut and a one rupee coin (pre demonetisation era) and then bending low to touch their feet in an unprecedented show of obeisance. These photos were all shot from the same angle, and if flipped forwards fast enough, would act as a flip-book with relatives replacing one another in animated fast motion. The bride and the groom would invariably have the same expression on all the photos – one of anticipatory panic, hoping against hope that that pesky mundu or loose saree would not fall off during all the bending and swooping.
  2. Wedding shots – the money shot would of course be the one in which the panicked groom attempts to tie the mangalsutra on the bride, praying to all the gods that he doesn’t screw up. The photographers would would form a protective cordon of strobing flashes around the newlyweds, trying to get as many clean shots as possible, often obscuring the entire event from the hundreds sitting in the viewing gallery, depriving them of even a momentary glimpse of the actual event that they had been invited to see.
  3. Sadya photos – this is where the photographers would earn their keep as professionals. They would have to roam around the sadya hall, trying to click half decent pictures of ravenous guests shovelling in mouthfuls of rice and sambar, all the while refraining from grabbing even a cup of water themselves. It’s a special kind of torture, having to watch people all around you eat gluttonously, having to smell all that tasty food surrounding you and yet have none of it. To top it off, you have to work as well. It’s no surprise that hungry and irritated photographers often resort to cheap shots like taking pictures of the groom with a big handful of rice soaked in sambar halfway up to his open mouth.

                        Sugunan’s Sadya moments
  4. Post wedding romantic photos – all photographers would attempt this finale, some with more finesse and élan than others. This part of the event is more or less akin to the improvisation in a Carnatic music performance, where the singers and the musicians suspend rules and regulationsfor a bit and dig deep down to unleash their creativity. Photographers would make the couple pose in embarrassing poses while they strived to achieve the perfect romantic shot. This is where the innate creativity of the most conservative and unimaginative studio photographer would wake up. Some have even been known to go crazy with props like umbrellas, chairs, flutes and on one memorable occasion, a full grown cow, with comically disastrous consequences.
                    Chin up, Smile, Look Romantic.

The era of digital cameras – Have camera, will shoot (2000 – 2010s)

Then came the wave of socialism that washed over the photography industry, short circuiting many a studio photographer’s career. Canon, Nikon and Sony started mass producing high quality digital cameras for relatively low prices, and almost every kid on the block bought one. Those who bought DSLRs immediately rushed out to take really close up pictures of ugly lizards sitting on backyard dumpsters and surprised ducks trying to cross the road – spending fifteen minutes on taking the photo and half an hour thinking up captions. Those who couldn’t be bothered with lizards and ducks went after more sedate subjects like fences, doors, the sky or even sleeping friends.

Have camera – will shoot 

These photographic endeavours extended to the wedding halls as well. You could see hordes of friends from both sides hovering around the bride and groom, clicking away merrily. Ex boyfriends trying to take pictures of the bride getting dressed (for old times’ sake) and soon to be ex friends trying to take pictures of the groom having that last hurried cigarette to calm his nerves now had the brush to paint the canvas of their imaginations. In their frenzy to get the perfect shot, these friends soon started falling over the professional photographers trying to cover the wedding.

Candid photos 

This era also saw the rise of guerrilla photography, often referred to as candid photography. It originated as a sort of rebellion against the formulaic predictability of the wedding photography techniques of the previous generation. Photographers, in their quest to reduce wedding photography to an exact science, had taken all the fun out of wedding albums, until there was little to no discernible difference between photos taken at your dad’s wedding and your own. In a bid to re-establish the ethos of creativity that ought to drive all photographic endeavours, people increasingly started turning to candid photography – i.e. photos taken without the direct knowledge of the subjects.

   Which could lead to cute moments such as this.

Candid photography also sought to capture the true essence of weddings – apathy leavened by bouts of panic. So it was that wedding albums came to be filled with pictures of the bride’s sister chatting up a friend of the groom, little lamps that mom thought would be a cute decorative addition to the mandapam but which almost ended up lighting the pujari on fire, dad’s panicked expression when the caterer told him the sadya would be late and the grandma nodding off backstage. Professional photographers started specialising in candid photos in a bid to keep pace with the times, and very soon became adept at taking photos of everything except the bride and the groom.

The era of drones – Missiles are optional extra (2010s – present)

Soon after the US military started using drones for reconnaissance and shooting missiles at the Taliban fighters doing potty behind Afghan rocks, commercial photographic studios realised that drones had other uses as well. They could be used to cover weddings too. The only difference between using a drone for military reconnaissance and wedding photography is that missiles are optional extra for the wedding. This then gave rise to the birth of the commercial drone photo and videography industry, where the wedding assumed secondary importance compared to the pre wedding destination photography. Hundreds of couples spent all the money they had saved up for the honeymoon on destination wedding preps, flying to Mauritius and the Andamans to have drones capture their fun filled frolics in knee deep ocean.

    But no drone can account for human stupidity.

Drones entered the wedding halls as well, buzzing merrily over guests hunched up to eat sadya. Sugunan could now empathise with the hapless Taliban fighter who wanted nothing more upon waking up in the morning than to answer nature’s call with some modicum of dignity and privacy , but instead was met with the loud fury of a drone hovering around his head. Such sort of nonsense can easily put one off feeding or potty.

It is hard to predict how wedding photography will continue to evolve. Technology may end up automating everything associated with weddings, with the unenviable result that wedding photographers may all have to retrain as drone operators in the near future. The only certainty is that Supriya’s dad will continue to be puzzled by what his daughter ever saw in that nincompoop Sugunan. The guy can’t even eat rice and sambar properly, for heaven’s sake.

The quick and dirty 5 step guide to attending Mallu weddings – for married couples

The popularity of my previous posts on the esoteric art of navigating Mallu wedding ceremonies has seemingly made me quite a celebrity amongst select circles. I have received multiple emails from my pained readers, detailing their own harrowing experiences on the battlefields of the Great Malayali Matrimony. All filled with gore, I assure you.
Scanning through these mails, it struck me that I had not properly addressed the plight of one select group of people who are often forgotten the minute they step out of the limelight- the hapless young couple who promised to share life, love and the TV remote on the hallowed grounds of Guruvayoor or Palayam church. They are the centre of attraction for an entire day, and then are sort of relegated to the background as fresh recruits step up to face the fire. Their duty done, they retire into the Elysian fields of marital bliss. No one cares what happens to them afterwards, as they try to find their feet and learn to buy two different TV sets and cable connections.
“It won’t do”, I said to myself. “If no one will take the responsibility of guiding them through the post wedding phase, I shall.” But before we go any further, my dear reader, I should like to warn you that I am not yet married. Ergo, I am just about as much qualified to give you marriage advice as Bugs Bunny. So follow my directions with a pinch of salt.
With that mandatory disclaimer out of the way, let us return to the matter at hand. The first three years of marriage can be tough. It’s often a period of exploration and discovery, where the languid joy of waking up in each other’s arms in the morning can quickly turn into abject loathing after the first unintended fart. And those are just the personal moments. Social events can be hell too. Take for instance, that traditional rite of passage – attending the first marriage after your own. Things can get pretty ugly if you don’t know how to roll during these occasions. Fortunately, these three rules can ease things up a bit.
Rule 1
Faced with any question, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you
You have no other rights.
Rule 2
Guys should steer clear of middle aged ‘uncles’
To a man they all consider themselves experts on personal finance. Coming from an era where government jobs were the ultimate wet dream for any self-respecting graduate, their personal finance advice begins and ends with real estate. Compound that with mid-life, existential and a host of other Freudian crises, and they will often end up persuading you to buy apartments in Perumbavoor or potato farms in Coimbatore. Not a great idea. If ever you are caught in such a situation, there is a right and a wrong way to deal with it. I shall illustrate with dialogues.
Wrong way
Uncle: “Sandeep, now that you are earning so much money, have you thought about investing some of it?”
Sandeep (pleasantly surprised): “Why yes, Uncle. I am building myself an emergency savings fund worth three months of living expenses, while at the same time contributing to a retirement index fund and a fairly diversified mutual fund with a healthy choice of risk, given my age and future earning potential”
Uncle (horrified): “My dear child, do you even know what investing means? Real estate, that’s what it means. All these funds are totally fraud. I invested some money ten years ago in Teak and Manjiyam plantations, and have not received a single rupee back. They are all fraud people, trying to sell you fraud things. You should only invest in land, I am telling you. Land will always be there for you. In fact, my sister Girija’s son has some potato farms in Coimbatore, why don’t you just take a look at it? Golden investment, I am telling you.”
Right way
Uncle: “Sandeep, now that you are earning so much money, have you thought about investing some of it?”
Sandeep (with a faraway look in his eyes): “No uncle, any extra paisa I have goes to the Sai Baba foundation.”
Rule 3
Girls should steer clear of ‘aunties’, those dangerous ‘saree clad assassins from Palakkad’,whom I have had occasion to refer to in the past.
If you are caught, be prepared to fend off questions like, “You have grown so thin, aren’t you getting anything to eat at your new place?”,” Why do you still go to work, isn’t your husband earning enough?”, “When are you buying a house, or do you plan to stay in those rented flats forever?” and “When can we expect some good news?”
That last question may seem innocent, but beware. Roughly translated, it means, “You have been married for 3 months now. When do you plan to start a family?” Most of these aunties come from an era where they took the phrase “Go forth and multiply” to heart, and where family planning meant waiting for 2 months after child birth before trying again. They share the Vatican’s hatred of condoms, instead preferring to adhere to the time tested mantra “Don’t start nothin’, won’t be nothin’”
Unfortunately, there is no simple way to escape if you get caught. Borrowing and adapting from the US Army’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) training manuals, the best course of action is to make yourself inconspicuous to avoid attention. If caught, try to confuse the enemy with random comments about their husbands and escape before they regroup and try to launch a counter attack. If all else fails, commend your spirit to God and tell them that your husband has had a vasectomy. It’s better to go down fighting.

Internet, the mallu family and online stalkers

My father recently discovered Facebook. I had hitherto laughed hard at my friends who had taken the courageous decision of adding their parents and relatives to Facebook, comfortable in the thought that my family, being technologically challenged, would hardly follow the same route.

But I had discounted my younger sister.

The girl studied C++ in her 6th grade and Java in her 9th. I am pretty sure she’s devouring some dangerous books on cybernetics for her board exams. Way more steeped in the internet culture than I am, she is a veritable trove of knowledge and curiosity when it comes to anything related to the net. It was she who put my father on to the idea that I was on Facebook and he could have me add him as a friend.

Once he cottoned on to the basic techniques, my father wasted no time in setting up a profile and inviting me. Then he sent me an email to remind me of the invitation. An hour later he phoned me and informed me that he had sent me an FB invite. He sounded as excited as a little boy who had mastered riding a cycle.

I avoided going online for a whole week to think the situation through. Obviously, there were pros and cons. On the con side, any of a half-dozen pics of mine with beer mugs or with some of my dubious friends would be enough to set off full departmental enquiries. On the pro side, the location finder service of FB would always reassure him by letting him know where I was at every moment. Ohh, wait…

In any case, I did it. Not that I had much of a choice anyway. My sister managed to find out my password, log in from my account and add my father. Talk about sibling loyalty.

As dreaded, the first thing the pater chanced upon on my wall was an unsavory comment made on a blog post on domesticatedkid (“The quick and dirty 5 step guide to attending mallu weddings“) by some random religious nutjob. Unfortunately, the word “mallu” generates a lot of hits with search engines and not all of it would be approved by a Catholic nun. In fact, some of the sites associated with the word mallu would be downright frowned upon.

It so happened that my blog was being stalked by a particularly foul tongued Catholic nun (at least, that’s what this person’s online handle declared). She chose to regularly invoke the Lord in heaven to strike me down for using that word in my post, even though my posts have never had any objectionable material in them. On weekends, she would up the ante and try to persuade God to strike down my entire family. She also chose, for some reason best known to her, to abuse me with words she definitely did not pick up in a seminary. I used to regularly remove such posts, but one of them had escaped notice. And guess what the pater stumbled upon on his first visit to my blog?

Father: “Mone, ee ‘Asian mofo’ ennal entha”? (Read: “Son, what does this ‘Asian mofo’ mean”?)

Me: “Errrmmmm….. It means… ahhhhh….. It’s a marketing term for Asian economic classifications”

Father: “Ohh, I see”

Me: “Phew”

Father: “Phew”

Online stalkers are huge mofos who take the fun out of surfing for mallu families. Swear.

Three reasons why Mallus need lifestyle training in Singapore

Sumo Wrestler Kaiō Hiroyuki on the first day t...
Image via Wikipedia

The Sumo stance: Standing upright in an MRT will pose a tremendous challenge to any traditional mallu. We are the race who perfected the art of wearing lungis even to Russia (I am not kidding, a few mallu politicians have done it). A necessary requirement of wearing a lungi (which is essentially a long sarong, a kilt, or what have you) is that standing in a moving environment with legs akimbo is a strict no-no. The swaying motion, coupled with the strain on the knot at the waist produced by the stance, is liable to loosen the lungi. Every mallu is trained for years to maintain his balance with legs kept close together. However, all this training comes to naught in a Singapore MRT. Here, the perfect stance required to maintain balance while the train gathers momentum, is what sumo wrestlers are trained to achieve. In a Mumbai train, such difficulties do not occur, since the rush inside would ensure that you don’t have sufficient space to stand, let alone fall. Moreover, if you lose your lungi in a Mumbai train, hardly anyone would notice.

The Zig Zag walk: For a race who mastered the art of lane driving, Singaporeans certainly do not follow it when it comes to walking. They zig. They zag. And they bump into you. I spent half an hour trying to negotiate pedestrian traffic on a 500 m stretch of sidewalk yesterday. I managed to evade about a dozen people successfully, until a walking stick with a very sharp, pointed end attached to an old lady, crashed into me. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind bumping into PYTs wearing micro-mini skirts, but I draw the line at walking sticks. Mallus do not have double standards when it comes to traffic, whether it be on the road or on sidewalks. It’s everybody (and every walking stick) for himself back home, and pretty much the same standards of chaos are enforced across all forms of traffic.

Singlish: It’s not just the fact that verbs, nouns, past participles and the national anthem are all mixed evenly to produce a desi version of English. If it were, my training in decimating Hindi for over 5 years in India would have been more than sufficient. No, even the usage is disturbingly different. A single spoken word can mean different things depending on whether a question mark or a period is tagged on at the end. The other day, I went to a coffee shop to order a cup. The lady serving the customers smiled at me and said, “Order?” I mentioned what I wanted, and as I am wont to do, stood at the counter staring vacantly into space. Meanwhile, another lady in the same shop came up to me and said, “Order.” In my reverie, I failed to notice that the tentative question mark had been replaced by an authoritative period. “Oh, its fine, I have ordered already”, I explained. “Then pay already”, she returned.

Every eating establishment in Kerala, ranging from roadside thattukadas to the Oberoi Hotel in Cochin, makes it a point to clearly indicate to the customer when they are asking for payment. When it comes to money, we don’t stand on subtleties.

And oh, Singapore, what’s all this nonsense about reserving random seats at restaurants with a teeny weeny tissue paper? Grow up already.

The Female Guide to attending Mallu weddings

My previous note on the topic seems to have touched a common chord with my peers everywhere. This, combined with the fact that I have been cooped up at home due to an unexpected extension of my joining date (apparently my company decided that the later they allowed me to join, lesser the damage I could do) prompted me to think of something which I do not normally think about. Girls. Ha.

My train of thought ran somewhat like this. Since the ratio of girls to boys in Kerala is slightly greater than 1 (yeah, that’s right. Read it and weep, you ArjunPandeys and Aditya Kashyaps) it stands to reason that a typical mallu wedding could and should consist of a few PYTs of my age group. Following that train of thought, it is only reasonable that such PYTs be subjected to the same treatment at the hands of saree clad assassins from Palakkad as would the poor guys. After all, Kerala, under communism, achieved gender equality much before the rest of India did. So, a set of guidelines for PYTs to counter such attacks (in the same vein as the original post) should be of a great help. After all, I am nobody if not someone who likes to devote every waking hour to the aid of PYTs.

Girls attending mallu weddings are mostly subjected to questions regarding marriage, health or children. If you are above the age of 20, you will be immediately categorized into one of three possible slots.

  • Educated – This means you are still studying and as such, can be marked down for a possible future match. If you have taken up MBBS however, you can be hunted down without mercy anytime.
  • Employed – This apparently means that you are desperate to settle into married life. Any employed girl who wants to remain single for some time is looked upon with deep suspicion. “Avalkku affair kaanum” (She must be seeing someone) will be the universal chant.
  • Married – Married girls have it tough in a different fashion. Any girl married for over a year is expected to have produced one child and be planning for the next.

Irrespective of your slot, these guidelines should come in handy.

  • Faced with any question, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you. You have the right to speak to your mom. If you cannot find your mom, God save you.
  • Try not to wear a saree. Handling its myriad folds and making sure that you do not trip over yourself as you walk is a major distraction when you are trying to fend off the questions and remarks of aunties. In fact, this is a secret weapon which mallu women have developed over the decades to ‘distract and conquer’ young ladies whom they want to interrogate. If you have ever attended a wedding sans saree, one of the first questions would be, “Ohh, why didn’t you wear a saree? You are old enough now, you know.” The auntie is actually thinking, “Shit, she is going to be a tough one to break.”
  • If you belong to the “Educated” category, you will be quizzed about the course and college. Always reply “Engineering” and follow it up with the name of the closest engineering college. This will buy you time (the 4 years until you get the B.Tech degree) and save you from having to explain why you thought going to NIT Suratkal was better than going to Ponnani. Never say that you are a medical student. Since it takes nearly 6 years or more to become an established doctor, you could be poached any day starting tomorrow.
  • If you belong to the “Employed” category, you will be asked about the company and location. Thankfully, girls do not have to field “salary” questions. In response, you can name any company under the sun except Infosys (in which case, you will immediately be referred to Girija for further consideration), but the location has to be Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram. Any employed single girl working in Noida or Bangalore is automatically assumed to have a boyfriend. And an employed single girl working overseas must surely be in a live-in relationship. “Ithu Kali kaalam alle?” (Isn’t this KalYug?)
  • Never allow the ladies to hold your wrist. Over the years, hardened veterans develop an amazing ability to predict vitals such as body fat content, haemoglobin level, bone density and even menstrual cycle just by holding your wrist. Worse still, they will then proceed to give you a detailed diagnosis of your problem and how the same symptoms resulted in health complications for Mrs. Kurian’s daughter.
  • If you are married, tell them your husband recently had a vasectomy. Trust me; it is far better to shock them than to have them plan your family over the wedding lunch.

If you get the chance, tell everyone (including the bride, God knows she needs some relief) the story of how Girija’s son was caught for watching porn while in school. Every victory, however small, counts.

Note: My good friend Yazhini Chandrasekharan recently took the trouble to contact me all the way from wherever she happened to be when she contacted me. A travel aficionado, she keeps changing her Facebook “Location” tag several times a day. Google has given up searching for her. So has Vodafone. Apparently gypsies do not have to pay bills. But I digress. The reason she messaged was to remind me that girls in Tamil Nadu have to face the very same problems that mallu girls do. I don’t disagree.