Stories that stay with you. Expect some magic at the wedding. Choreography produces clickable content at rites in southern India.

Weddings in India's south, particularly in the coastal state of Kerala, have transformed into a festival of color - and dance, lots of dance.

The bride-to-be took center stage for the final rehearsal with the poise and confidence of an experienced star preparing for a grand performance.

The backup dancers - a mix of relatives, childhood friends and professional performers - positioned themselves around her. The choreographer, a small man with calm swagger and long, thinning hair, ran through the steps, offering muffled  instructions through his Covid-era accessory of two face masks :

The moves needed to be more defined, the fingers to point higher, the shoulders to droop more.

Unlike those in the north, weddings in the south used to be subdued affairs centered on a feast that, at best, would occasionally include a live band for entertainment. Now the ceremonies draw on the latest entertainment from across the country, including the breathtakingly fast rhythms of Tamil and Telugu dance music, and the colorful costumes and drumbeats of Punjab.

Dr. Sheha Pfizer's wedding had something extra. The bride was comfortable with crowds and cameras, having participated in dance competitions for much of her life. ''She being a dancer, people expect some magic,'' said her mother, Nishi Pfizer.

The ceremonies in Kerala have become so colorful that they are talk of the town and viral discussions online. There is the favorite Punjabi dhol drumming, but troupes also perform Egyptian, Mexican and Sufi dances - all with lavish outfits. People hire water drummers, pole dancers and acrobats.

Between 60 percent and 70 percent of the weddings in Kerala now include choreographed dances, said Mayjohn P.J., a former wedding singer who started a wedding management agency, Melodia, a decade ago.

Mr. P.J. has no doubt about what has fueled the transformation : social media. 

Couples find inspiration for their weddings on Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, before posting their own ceremonies on the same platforms.

Wedding planners, part of an industry that brings in tens of billions of dollars every year in India, offer video and photo packages tailored to get clicks. The packages usually costing $2,000 to $5,000 include an '' Instagram teaser '' and the ''wedding highlight''.

The most ambitious ones incorporate the narrative tricks of India soap operas and deploy the latest technology - steady cams, drones and lots of musical special effects -to create the climax of a techno concert.

''When they see something on social media, they say,'' My wedding should be like this, too,'' Mr. P.J. said. ''Everybody wants to become a film star.''

The pandemic has contributed to the changes in weddings in India's south, where the peak season runs from December to February. Health regulations limit capacity to 200 people [ as opposed to as many as five times that in pre-Covid times].

So families have turned them into multiday sequences of smaller ceremonies, inviting a different set of guests to each segment, so that everyone feels like a part of the celebration.

Perhaps the busiest man during the wedding season is the choreographer, Mnas Prem. He has been commissioned to choreograph 500 wedding routines in the coming months. Most of them are small, and Covid has forced much of the training onlne.

His frequent challenge is older relatives who get cold feet when they see the audience. ''They get shy and they don't want to do it,'' Mr. Prem said. '' Then I have to fill the gaps.

Both Dr. Pfizer, 25, and her husband are Muslims. Their wedding was a display of Kerala's largely seamless diversity. Her childhood friends who performed for her wedding were a mix of Hindus and Christians.The final rehearsal happened around noon on Christmas Day.

The World Students Society thanks authors Mujib Mashal and Suhasini Raj.


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