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The shaadi screen test
In a saturated marriage market, the matrimonial biodata - that businesslike document brandished by aunties and local matchmakers - is worth its weight in gold. But Gaurav Agarwal knew that M/28/Wheatish/Garment Exporter couldn't sum up the chutzpah he wanted to sell. So, he decided to hand out VCDs instead.
Those who dare to press 'play' can see Agarwal in an embroidered shirt, thick-rimmed glasses and goatee, tapping away at his laptop, strumming the guitar, doing a salsa shimmy and showing off his beatboxing skills for eight long minutes. Then, in Bollywood style, he cruises down the streets of Lucknow, wind blowing through his hair, as he confesses what he's looking for in a partner: someone who "maintains her figure, is from the same caste and works from home". Later there's a sneak peek into his room and even an introduction to his parents for prospective brides. "Nowadays, if you want to get married, you need to advertise yourself," he says. "I thought, why not do it with a dhamaka?"
Agarwal isn't the only one trying to cut through the clutter of dull matrimonial biodatas with a 'dhamaka'. From video clips to PowerPoint presentations to mini feature films, several prospective brides and grooms are making sure their pitch is memorable. So you have eligible bachelors cooing at pups in the hope that bachelorettes will sense their sensitivity, prospective brides walking down imaginary ramps in their living rooms to show their 'open-mindedness', and girls putting their multi-facetedness on display by smashing a tennis ball over the net in one shot and demurely making rotis in the next.
Meghna Chitalia, a wedding planner who's recently added making new age biodatas to her work profile, had one Mumbai girl change 11 outfits in her matrimonial commercial. "She got into a sari, salwarkameez, mini skirt and jeans and sported different looks. I guess she wanted to show that she could be traditional and modern too," she says. In another case, the planner helped a bride make a short feature film about her life. The video, interspersed with grabs from home videos of her childhood, interviews with members of her family and accounts of her favourite hobbies, were woven into a storyline. In yet another case, a prospective groom actually did a spoof of Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar.
Excessive as it may seem to many, Chitalia says the idea is to make a lasting first impression. "You have a few minutes to say everything about yourself and the idea is to say it in the best way possible," she says, adding that a professional video shoot could set a client back by anything between Rs 15, 000 and Rs 1 lakh. Not everybody outsources the video profiles though - often they are handycam jobs or a mix of the amateur and the professional, like in the case of singer Vikram Sachdev who chose to begin with a clip of herself participating in a musical reality show.
Video candidates like Agarwal are gung-ho about the new match-making platform, arguing that the authenticity of video profiles are their selling point. "There's a lot of bluffing going on. Here, you see everything with our own eyes," he says. Vishal Shah, owner of a matrimonial agency called Viva, believes that video profiles save prospectives a lot of trouble. "Most of my clients make their decision within the first five minutes of the first meeting," he says, "and more often than not, these decisions are based on physical appearance and personality. These attributes come through effectively on a video profile, so rather than directly meet people, it's better to view videos and then decide whether you want to take it forward from there or not." Shah, who is working towards introducing video profiles in his agency, says he's trying to plug holes like maintaining quality and size.
Gourav Rakshit, business head of shaadi. com, an online matrimonial with a video feature, says that maintaining the quality of the videos (since most of them are home videos or webcam grabs) is the biggest challenge in video profiling. "For example, things like ambient noise and lighting are sometimes not taken care of. These factors may turn the pitch on its head," he says. Rakshit says it was NRIs who embraced video profiling first, after which the metros caught on. "But even though the video profile space is growing - which I assume is a direct fallout of greater broadband penetration - it still occupies a small percentage of the market," he says.
Does a video profile really guarantee a better chance of getting hitched? "It does have a higher connection rate," says Rakshit. But Chitalia warns that there's a caveat: while video profiles stand a better chance of being noticed, they also have a tendency to become ridiculous. "They will work if they are kept short and people try not to make a fool of themselves," she says.
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