updated 1 Jan 2012, 20:10
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Sat, Mar 19, 2011
The Star/ANN
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Creative ways to propose marriage
by Neeta Lal

Suniti Bajaj, 26, a Bangalore-based software professional was a tad surprised when Sumeet, 29, her boyfriend of two years, asked her to join him for a stroll in the "nearby fields" after lunch at a posh eatery.

"I thought maybe Sumeet wanted to walk around a bit as the meal was really delicious and we'd indulged ourselves," recalls Bajaj.

"However, after walking for about 20 minutes on the lush grass, I suddenly heard the whir of a chopper. I looked up and there it was, a helicopter showering cascades of rose and marigold petals on me. A big banner reading - "Suniti, will you marry Sumeet?" - was trailing behind the machine!"

Clearly, who could say no to a guy who had gone to such lengths to propose? However, though the chopper act got Sumeet his lovely wife, the idea wasn't his own. He confesses it came from a professional proposal planner at Your Wish Is Our Command (YWIOC), a wedding planning company that has branched into planning proposals.

A raft of proposal planning companies have mushroomed in India lately to cater to a growing segment of people who are avoiding the "boring" idea of going down on bended knees to propose. Ergo, we are seeing proposals in the air to underwater ones, and everything in between.

Innovative ideas are being tapped by entrepreneurs to help people woo their sweethearts in style. Rohit Saxena, founder of Exciting Lives, a New Delhi-based gifting company that also does proposal planning says, "With greater disposal incomes, people are looking at more innovative ways of doing things. Proposal planning is still in its infancy in India. It is a highly niche market but picking up very fast."

Saxena's unique selling proposition - the "Love is In The Air" theme - sees amorous couples going up in a hot air balloon with a champagne-and-cake break thrown in. "We do about half a dozen such proposals in a month," says the entrepreneur. "They're very popular and cost about US$400 per trip."

Market analysts say there are many growth drivers for the trend - a consumer culture and a prolific rise in the number of companies that cater to a fast rising segment of well-to-do citizens who want to outsource possibly everything in life.

New York writer Rebecca Mead, author of One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding has an interesting take on the emergence of proposal planners.

"I think that, certainly, the groom is a very attractive proposition for people in the wedding industry, and one that has been underexploited in a way. He is not targeted to the same degree as the bride, by any means. And this is definitely a way of bringing men more into the economic picture here," she wrote.

"Proposing is essentially a western trend that has caught people's fancy in India," says Pronob Dutta, a Kolkata-based wedding planner. "But most people don't know how to implement these ideas though they have big money to pay for such services."

The estimated annual outlay on weddings in India is a staggering RM102mil, and expanding at 25%, according to Tarun Sarda, CEO of Vintage and organiser of wedding exhibitions like Vivaha.

"Also, people are very competitive nowadays. Everybody wants his or her proposal to outdo the others'."

Indians especially, say experts, have always been big on weddings and view marriage as the most significant milestone in their lives. Fed on the staple diet of Bollywood fare, they want their weddings and now, even proposals, to look straight out of a movie set! This is the reason newer roles are emerging within the wedding industry, be it proposal manager or anniversary planner.

Even senior citizens have been bitten by the bug of exciting proposals. Recently, Dreamz Unlimited, a Delhi-based wedding planner organised the proposal for a 63-year-old widower who wanted to tie the knot with a widow. So on her birthday, the company arranged for the elderly gentleman to send 15 gifts, each with a big, bold alphabet that made up the sentence - Will You Be My Wife?

The last gift in the box bearing the letter E opened to reveal a dainty diamond ring!

Hotels have clambered onto the gravy train, too. ITC Grand Central, Parel in Mumbai offers a service where the person who books his special Valentine's suite - located at the rooftop, overlooking the city - is entitled to a dedicated butler service, a personalised menu and other goodies. Apart from these, the hotel is willing to make special arrangements to customise the set-up for a proposal.

However, the ideas don't come cheap. While the cost of the service clearly depends on the nature of the idea, Saxena says that it starts at RM339 for something basic yet unique.

"The price can sometimes be a deterrent for our clients, but then proposing to your love is such a special moment that people often overlook the cost factor," he says.

Having coughed up so much moolah, do the grooms like feel they have been exploited?

"Not at all," laughs Ranjan Bhatia, a Delhi-based businessman who proposed to his wife with the help of a proposal planner. "I was just thrilled that my girlfriend said yes!"

However, it isn't just men who are using these services. A wedding planner recalls one of his clients, a 32-year-old woman, who was deeply in love with a chef. After wracking their brains for days for ideas, all of which were rejected by the pernickety client, they finally zeroed in on one which she accepted.

"We got together all of the young chef's favourite dishes lined up on a candle-lit table at a fancy restaurant. They were all covered with cloches and the last one had a diamond ring under it!"

Neeta Lal is a New Delhi-based senior journalist.

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