It’s easy to see why New York natives Monica and Shail chose Jamaica as the backdrop for their gorgeous 3-day destination Indian wedding celebration. Of all the Caribbean islands, its one of the most beautiful, inviting, and fun; a perfect way to describe this fun loving couple and their families. Although at first glance you might assume Monica and Shail were selected straight from central casting, but these two aren’t actually movie stars (yet). When the two decided to leave their normal lives behind, gather family and friends, and embark on a destination wedding adventure in Jamaica, we were honored to take part and commemorate the festivities in very unique and cinematic ways.
Held at Half Moon in Montego Bay, Monica and Shail’s celebration was the perfect hybrid of a traditional Indian wedding with a lush, island paradise. From the bright, tropical color palette, to the groom’s baraat by motorboat, to the giving of the coconut picked straight from a local palm, to the wedding ceremony on the beach, even their priest, an Indian pandit, was a local of Jamaica. Perhaps none of these elements celebrated both the island destination and the traditions of a Hindu wedding more appropriately then the couples’ wedding garlands. Made from the beautiful, local tropical flowers that pepper the Jamaican landscape, these garlands, or “Jai Mala,” gave Monica and Shail a poignant way to welcome each other and their newly joined families, one of the first and most integral traditions to begin a Hindu wedding. Documenting the creation of Monica and Shail’s Jai Malas with local flowers gave us the opportunity to showcase the blending of location with tradition that their wedding did so well.
Depeka and Robin came to us as long-time fans of our work and a love of all things Bollywood. After a twelve-year courtship, Robin’s elaborate proposal even involved screening their favorite movie, “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.” Although having settled in New York, Depeka’s ancestry traces back to Rajasthan and many members of her family continue to call Guyana home. One challenge for their wedding celebration was bringing together all of their friends and family spread between the east coast, South America and the Caribbean. When Depeka and Robin narrowed their search to South Florida, Depeka’s dream of combining her love of the beach with elements of a royal Hindu wedding held in a beautiful palace were slowly realized. The first time she saw The Breakers in Palm Beach, Depeka knew she had found her palace by the sea. Depeka and Robin’s sentimental nature and love of Bollywood cinema inspired their e-session, which we combined with their same-day-edit and screened to all in attendance the night of their reception. A very special thanks to makeup artist Susmita Patel, who did a great job with her cameo, and the staff at The Breakers Palm Beach.
It’s not often we get to take part in a celebration with as many unique touches and thoughtful details as Vish & Aalok’s two-day Hindu wedding at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami. All the careful planning was no accident. If you’ve attended one of their lavish Hindu weddings in the last decade, chances are you’re not only familiar with Rose Events, but a big fan of what they do. When we first heard from Vaishali, Rose Events’ founding partner and wedding coordinator extraordinaire, and learned that she wanted us to document her own wedding to long-time love, Aalok, we knew we were in for something truly special.
Vish & Aalok are an amazingly fun, funny, high energy couple who are self-described goof-balls. With so many unique and fitting pre-ceremony surprises planned from fun gifts to a scavenger hunt, we knew there would be plenty of excitement. A big highlight for us was Aalok’s baraat, an incredible caravan of jet ski’s racing through the Miami intercoastal just before the ceremony. What became clear almost immediately though, despite all the careful choreography of the day, is that these two also have big hearts and wouldn’t be able to resist showing lots of emotion. Laughter often accompanied tears. So many memorable moments, unexpected, touching and fun, for these two “friend soulmates” with over a decade of history, friendship and love between them. We were honored to be a part of such an amazing celebration and humbled by the trust one of the industry’s finest coordinators gave us for her very own, much anticipated wedding.
We learn something new and beautiful about the Indian culture with every South Asian wedding film we produce. Sapna and Vijay’s gorgeous destination wedding in Aruba was no exception. The week of festivities would be a memorable departure from the norm, with the island serving as a picturesque backdrop for the Atlanta natives’ lavish two-day South Asian wedding. The celebration joined friends and family from all over the world to partake in the couples’ Vidhi and Pithi, outdoor Sangeet and Hindu wedding ceremony overlooking Palm beach. In this piece, the challenge was blending the rich visual symbols of a modern Hindu wedding with an homage to the distinct sights and sounds of the Caribbean islands. Central to our approach was a focus on water as a theme, for its recurrence in the rituals of a Hindu wedding ceremony, to its ever-presence as a symbolic motif in Bollywood cinema. From the blue/green hues in the color palette to the literal moments of washing and rainfall itself, water as a symbol of renewal and purity was a link common to both Hinduism and the couples’ chosen destination of the island.
But the idea to attempt a pseudo concept engagement session in the rain was inspired at the last minute by weather reports showing scattered showers the week of the trip. We are always looking for inventive ways to try new things. So to pull off the shoot, Sapna and Vijay were “on call” the day before festivities were set to begin, and none of us knew if or when we would see rain. But it managed to fall at the perfect moment and we hurried to produce the impromptu shoot on the very same beach as their ceremony. The same-day-edit premiered at their reception just prior to their grand entrance on the last night of the trip. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results and were honored to document this memorable event for such a fun couple.
Does it still exist somewhere, in some ethereal place, waiting to come to fruition again?
Could a fictional narrative capture an emotional state, and the true meaning behind a real, live event with more drama and conviction than a traditional documentary?
These were just some of the questions that arose when I took on the “CITY OF LAKES” project late last year. First, it would become an unprecedented attempt to combine a fully scripted, produced film with a real, live wedding (central to the plot) into one, seamless film. Second, the live wedding and production would be shot entirely on-location in Udaipur, India over a period of nine days. Third, the skeleton crew I would commission would be made up solely of live event filmmakers from across North America, who would shoot the live wedding events and production simultaneously & exclusively on DSLRs, the Canon 5D MarkII and Canon 7D.
The project would require a leap of faith first from Chicago natives, Melissa & Samir, who initially invited me to document their three-day destination wedding in Udaipur, India, while simultaneously considering a Bollywood concept they hoped to premiere at their reception. I quickly realized no concept film could rival the fairy tale wedding they had planned. So after pitching the idea to combine a scripted concept with their wedding film to produce a much more meaningful ‘hybrid’ feature, they deliberated, and finally took the leap. For that, I can’t thank them enough. It then took a leap of faith from my DP & Co-producer Patrick Moreau, who was skeptical, but eager, followed by talented wedding filmmakers Joe Simon & Casey Warren. Rounding out our team was my jib operator, Chris Geiger, Amish Solanki, and Mumbai-based super-producer, Pravin Thakur; a true miracle worker.
“CITY OF LAKES” is as much a documentary about what it means to return to the birthplace of one’s ancestors, as it is an exploration of the Hindu faith, and the rituals of a Hindu marriage. Central to this is the Ganesh puja, which in simple terms, is a prayer over a fire believed to invoke the spirit of Ganesh, a great deity and protector, who can remove all obstacles from one’s path. The puja is performed several times in the film and carries great significance to the plot and characters in both literal and metaphoric ways.
Melissa & Samir had always dreamed of being married in India. We hope this film helps them cherish that dream. But it could not have been without the acting talents of Anubhab Saha, Sharon Chawda and Rushad Rana, who were consummate professionals and a joy to work with. It also could not have been without the support of our sponsors: Canon, who provided two pre-production 7Ds and a host of L-series lenses; Tiffen, who provided all of our lighting; and Cinevate, who sent us much needed gear and sponsored an incredible behind-the-scenes campaign viewable at Cinevate.com.
The challenges were immediate, abundant and frequent. At times, we were certain the film was destined for failure; I wondered if the film was too ambitious to execute. It took the perseverance of filmmakers who deal routinely in making the spontaneous appear staged and constant script re-writes to adjust to the obstacles.
You won’t find many studios ready or willing to post a full length edit or main feature online for anyone to see; and for good reason. Event films are documentaries meant mainly for the people who lived them. But it’s with pride that we share Melissa & Samir’s ‘hybrid’ feature, “CITY OF LAKES,” which hopefully achieves more than a documentary, and perhaps at the same time, more than a scripted film.
There is a final question we hope you’ll find difficult to answer as you watch our film. In more ways than one, try to answer:
What is real?
Thanks for watching,
Pacific Pictures presents “CITY OF LAKES”
Starring Melissa Kumar, Samir Shah, Anubhab Saha, Sharon Chawda & Rushad Rana
Written & Directed by Kevin Shahinian
Produced by Kevin Shahinian & Patrick Moreau
Line Producer Pravin Thakur
Director of Photography Patrick Moreau
2nd Unit Director Joe Simon
2nd Unit Steadicam Casey Warren
Film Editor Kevin Shahinian
Jib Operator Chris Geiger
Set Photographer Amish Solanki