More band for the buck

- October 18, 2018
| By : Shubham Bhatia |

What took off as a business of supplying mares for weddings, turned into Chawla Band that has attained such immense popularity that it has performed at over 11 lakh weddings Weddings in India are a huge deal. From choosing attires to venues, everything is prioritised at the highest level. There is no budget, really. After […]

What took off as a business of supplying mares for weddings, turned into Chawla Band that has attained such immense popularity that it has performed at over 11 lakh weddings

Weddings in India are a huge deal. From choosing attires to venues, everything is prioritised at the highest level. There is no budget, really. After all, it has to be a dream wedding.

Adding to the grandeur is the wedding band — playing the baaja which escorts the baratis to the venue — an indispensable part of north Indian weddings.

On the bustling Shivaji Marg in the Tagore Garden area, every second shop is that of a wedding band with huge hoardings boasting of their countless years in the business. Managers are sitting inside their cabins, waiting for customers as the wedding season is about to kick off.

Even though there are many weddings bands in Delhi, there is a name that has outshone all the others as it withstood the test of time — Chawla Band, is known as the go-to band of West Delhi. Their popularity can be gauged from the fact that they have performed at almost every wedding in an area that predominantly has Sikh and Punjabi Hindu residents.

Chawla Band’s demand increased by word of mouth and not by planning. “My father, HS Chawla, used to ride a tonga (a horse-drawn vehicle) in Moti Nagar (West Delhi) in the 1970s,” says Virender Chawla who co-owns and manages the Chawla Band, along with his elder brother and two sons.

He joined the family business in 1991, and tells the back story of how their family band reached the mind-boggling figure of performing at 11 lakh weddings in India. He says that since his father used to ride a tonga for a living, people knew him well, but the real reason that led to the formation of the band was their mare, Lakshmi. His father’s fondness for Lakshmi was so strong that he used to drop Chawla to school by his tonga.

“She was a quite a beauty and attracted a lot of attention. Everybody wanted her to come to their weddings,” says Chawla. He recalls that there were times when people started invited them to their weddings and requested for Lakshmi. Soon she became the star of the neighbourhood.

As the demand kept increasing, Chawla’s father decided to buy another mare to continue moving ahead in the business. Soon the concept of lighting system, which used to run on kerosene, was introduced and Chawla’s father started offering that, along with the mares.

This went on for 5-10 years. Later, a new breed of bandwallahs surfaced, who started dominating the business. His father began working for these bandwallahs, but his payments were delayed. “They used to give excuses like ‘Come after 2-3 days’,” adds Chawla.

Realisation soon dawned that he should set up his own wedding band. Gradually, the business started to flourish and Chawla Band entered the sphere of popular bands in Delhi.

“We are grateful for all the weddings that we were a part of, as they made us popular and enabled us to attain such heights in the business,” says Chawla. Soon, Chawla Band will star in a movie which will release on the Indian edition of Netflix.
Of course, being a part of movies will make the brand even more popular. More band, baaja, baraat.

He also mentions that some deals with the production houses don’t involve money. “Since some storylines demand a band and it helps our band too, we don’t take or give financial assistance,” says Chawla.

Apart from focusing on collaborating with the production houses, Chawla also tries to come up with innovative ideas to make the wedding processions more extravagant.

“I try to focus on my business, rather than thinking about what others are doing,” he adds. During the last wedding season Chawla introduced a new type of chariot, where the groom had a remote, which if pressed, would create a mini firework display on the top. The chariot was driven by four mares and adorned with crystals and flowers. “Thankfully, this has not been copied till now,” Chawla sighs with relief.

The focus of the band is also on updating their playlist. “I try to listen to as many new songs as possible, and if I like something, I tell the band masters and they start their practice session,” he says.

Each practice session starts 3-4 days prior to a big wedding or a stage performance. It starts from nine in the morning and goes on till 5 pm. A lot of changes are made before the final version is selected. The band is also the official band for the IPL team Delhi Daredevils.

During peak season, Chawla Band performs at about 40-50 weddings in a day. When asked how he manages this huge a number, he says, “All the routes are divided amongst me, my brother and my sons.” He says that on an average, he looks after 8-10 weddings on a particular route. Some of the routes are NH-8, South Delhi, Gurgaon and GT Karnal Road.

He says that they have to say no to many weddings, so much so that he ends up rejecting more offers than he accepts. The band is currently booked till April next year. “Poori Dilli ki shaadiyan hum thodi na kar sakte hain,” adds Chawla.

When it comes to fashion, the band is highly focused on the livery of its band members. Most of the uniforms are made in Delhi — designed by his son and stitched by in-house tailors. But when there’s a special request from a customer for the paghdis, the band gets it from Hyderabad.

Unlike some weddings, where you see band members or other helpers eating during or after the wedding, Chawla Band adopts a strict policy of “no eating at weddings” for its band members. “We provide them food. Customer should not be liable for them,” says Chawla.

The mares too, are looked after properly. The 25 mares that the band has in it’s stable in Vikaspuri, are maintained with proper care and has dedicated caretakers too.

He adds that each customer is important to them and there’s no package as such. The cost varies depending on the customer’s demands, but usually starts from Rs 30,000 and goes till 10 lakh.

Some weddings have been in the news for people shooting in the air with their guns (mostly unlicensed). One such incident that occurred in 2016 involved one of their mares.

“When somebody shot a bullet in the air it hit the mare’s leg, but it only brushed the leg. We called up the doctor immediately,” recalls Chawla. He says that customers offered financial assistance for it but also requested not file a police complaint.

Weddings are the only source of good income for the band, and that’s what they’ve been known for. A customer was heard saying, “There are 25 shops here, but I came to you because of the name.” He trusted Chawla so much that he refused to see the catalogue.