Yes, a review. Why? Because I had my wedding just recently and therefore I feel the pain of many, many others who are and will be planning their weddings in the near future. We made a few mistakes, we made many right choices, so I feel that it is only right for others to learn from my experience. So darlings, this is for you.

My perception of marriage was that one only needed to get a dress, put on some make up, get up on that Poruwa and manage to stay up there without fainting until all of the ceremony is over. Up until the point that I had started planning my own I had no clue as to how serious weddings actually are. Think of it this way – your wedding is the largest, most important, not to mention the most expensive theater play that you will not only produce and direct but also be the main characters as well. The myriad things that one needs to look into, the stress, the last minute screw ups, the details, it was just a whole new subject matter that even now, after all the wreck and havoc has passed, I had only begun to understand. Which is why I decided to publish this post on this blog. Because I feel, I may be wrong, that I just may not be the only one lost in this labyrinth of wedding paraphernalia.

I shall go one by one.

The dresser

Having grown up being dragged from one wedding fiasco to another, I had decided from very early on itself that I will not go for any of these famous “personalities” for my wedding. For them, yours is just one more wedding – very banal and impersonal and simply, a commercial venture. Not to mention the ten thousand rules and restrictions that you have to abide by when taking them on. Thou shalt NOT go out in the sun, thou shalt NOT face the sea breeze, thou shalt NOT eat or drink (insert a foot long list here), thou shalt come for 10 facials a month for 6 months and pay me a small fortune for doing basically nothing at all – it’s like they are paying YOU to take them on, not the other way around. So I decided to go with the girl who usually does my hair and makeup for special occasions. I think the most important part is that the person who is going to dress you for your wedding should be familiar with your features, the contours of your face, the nature of your hair. He/she must have experimented with your facial features to know what works and what doesn’t. After all, you only get one chance to get married (if you are fortunate) and you would want to look your best. You won’t get this kind of personalized attention from “celebrity” makeup persons preaching beauty laws on TV programs.

Varuni had been a previous employee at Nayana Salons and has years of experience up her sleeve. She is young, sweet-tempered and very cooperative and you can pretty much discuss anything with her. She will give her opinions but she will not force you to do anything that you do not like. And when she takes on a project, she puts her heart and soul into it. I did not have to refrain from the sun and she did not force me to come for facials five times a week – in fact I think I only did 2 facials and one was only a cleanup to get rid of blackheads and impurities. And even without any of those silly restrictions, I wasn’t absolutely hideous on my wedding day!

She takes her time but does a superb job on you and does not transform you to the point that you look absolutely unrecognizable. Even though I did not have a retinue, I started dressing at 2 am on the day of the wedding. We were supposed to finish by 6 am but the dressing went on till 7.30 am which set back our photography time considerably. This I assume was due the fact that the girl that she brought as her assistant was very much inexperienced and was fumbling all over the place where she could have made things easier. But at the end of the day, I was amazed at what she had done with me and that was comfort enough for the photo time lost.

She is currently in the process of setting up her own salon and I cannot share her details publically. However, I shall be happy to provide her details to anyone who is interested privately. Just ask :)

The saree, the jacket and the making of the Kandyan

If you know your way around Chennai, I think this is the best place to get your wedding saree sorted.

Having lived in Chennai for a while, we know the city better than the back of our hands. I got my wedding saree from Moksha, a specialized saree emporium where they only make one of each saree. I was looking for a simple one, something without the kind of bling that would rival the milky way that I could wear on regular occasions as well if I liked and I knew that I would not be able to find that here in Sri Lanka. The aim was not to spend a small fortune on a dress that I would most probably wear only once. And I would say, target achieved. Because I managed to find this lovely hand embroidered saree with delicate lace work and tiny ivory beads that was at the same time, simple AND elegant both.

Now the challenge was to find someone who would do the material justice.

Rita happens to be a relation of one of my father’s friends but we have been completely unaware of her existence up until then. She is a bit strict and I was terrified of her in the beginning, but when she started talking, one gets the impression that she knows what she’s talking about. My intention was to keep the saree as it was without taking it apart to make the Kandyan so that I may be able to wear it again, but she was adamant that it should be broken into a made-up Kandyan. The moment she tied the last string of the finished Kandyan and turned me to face the mirror, I knew it was the right decision to make. There is no other word to describe the end product other than to say that it was just perfect. It was as if she had sewn the garment onto my skin. She had also gone the extra mile and applied lacework on to the jacket sleeves from the saree itself and at the end, it was everything that I wanted it to be – simple, grand and elegant, fit for a Kandyan bride. At a fraction of the cost too! I would recommend her to anyone who appreciates fine craftsmanship and attention to detail.

Rita lives in Dalugama in the Kelaniya area. Like my dresser, I cannot share her details publicly. But I will be happy to send them to anyone interested privately. Just ask :)

The Poruwa, Deco

Since I was going for the traditional Poruwa ceremony with the full Kandyan and all, the obvious choice was Wimal Jayawardena or who is commonly known as Poru Gedara. Now Wimal Jayawardena, a kind and composed gentleman, the kind that is always in a white National Suit is what you would call a “Poru celebrity” among the elite. His audience is niche as his stuff are not exactly cheap and although he does have more modern poru as well, his  heavy and grandly traditional work is not everybody’s cup of tea (He’s the same guy who provides all the background paraphernalia for Doramadalawa, so you get the drift). His Poruwa and other wedding material are elegant and classy and besides, he has been in business from ever since I can remember. He’s kind of like our family poru guy – my cousins, family friends, etc, he provided poru for all.

Wimal Jayawardena is quite old now and the business is now being run by his daughter and his late wife’s sister. I must say that the grandeur and the exclusivity earlier associated with his work is no longer there and I assume this is so as he is no longer hands on in his craft. We kept Wimal Jayawardena as the last resort a) because he lives close by to my place b) because we were already somewhat decided that we would be going for his poru set and came to him after looking at several poru at various places and none of them caught my fancy. But at Poru Gedara, I fell in love with one. It was a grand wooden poruwa with replicas of the Ambakke carvings on the pillars with a traditional Sinhalese roof and a hansa poottuwa at the background in bronze. This was to be decorated with strings of jasmine flowers streaming from the empty space at the back, white lotus and hydrangeas, as specified by us. If they had it their way, I would have gotten a careless flower arrangement with very few white lotuses, white Michael and loads of ugly green leaves, so we made it a point to specify which flowers we wanted.

Sri Lankan Poruwa at wedding ceremony

I’m sorry I don’t have a close up. But this is pretty much what the Poruwa looked like in the distance

For this we chose a wooden settyback (is that how you spell it?) as well of a door with jasmine flowers streaming from the back. I wanted it simple and they had done exactly what I wanted.

This is the only pic I have of my settee back. And that would be us sitting there :)

This is the only pic I have of my settee back. And that would be us sitting there :)

However, their table deco was not very satisfactory. I wanted something simple, but their designs were much too heavy handed and rather gaudy for me. So I took matters into my own hands and designed one for myself. It was a bunch of white lotus tied together with coir and simply placed in a glass jar tied with a piece of pillow lace. This I showed to them and they agreed that they will do it, provided that we provide the jars tied with the pillow lace.

Just days before the wedding we suddenly get a call. It was Wimal Jayawardena’s late wife’s sister claiming that they don’t have enough white lotus. Now this was the time to really hit the panic button because there was just 3 days more to go and my entire deco was based on white lotus. At the end of this conversation she had told my mother “it’s ok, we will try and do it at least to an additional cost. This has to be done somehow noh”. I have a sneaking suspicion that this was a stunt pulled to draw more cash out.

Wedding decorations

Part of deco – Wooden pillars with Ambakke carvings and jasmine streaming down

If you are going for a full on traditional look, (if the bride is going full on Kandyan and etc) I highly recommend Wimal Jayawardena. But have an idea of what you are looking for and for which price range and tell them exactly what you need including the flowers you want added because if those were left to them, you probably wouldn’t get a very good product. But if you show them what you need and be very specific about the flowers you want them to use and etc, they would do a brilliant job. But do be warned. You may want someone to keep an eye on them on the morning of the wedding to ensure that everything is in place.

The Cards & the cake boxes

Cake box

Cake box

This was something we had decided as unnecessary in the beginning but went through with anyway because parents decided that it was necessary. So we did not pay much attention to the cards and the cake boxes and we trudged through Pettah to select a printer from amongst the gazillion who had set fort there. We selected a simple design, a laser cut that nevertheless cost us a small fortune and it looked good on the outside. It was however disastrous on the inside. Although we gave them the wordings properly printed and specified with necessary line breaks, spacing and etc and although we went there 3 times to check and correct the prints, they somehow managed to mess out the wording nevertheless. There were typos, some wordings they have replaced with words of their own entirely. There was an English poem and a Sinhala poem (written by hubby boy’s father who is a published poet as well) and the first time we went to have a look, the Sinhala poem was printed like a paragraph. After we corrected this and assumed that everything was alright, they delivered us the printed cards with typos and replaced words in both Sinhala and English sides. Plus, they delivered the cards and the cake boxes about 25 short of what we had paid for. Suffice to say I do not even want to mention their name here but only that I would like to offer you a word of warning about these so called wedding card people in Pettah. DON’T go there.

The Hotel

Booking the hotel was the easy part. I had one hotel in mind and that was The Galleface Hotel. Nevertheless, we did have a look at other feasible hotels as well just to get an idea. Here is the breakdown.

Cinnamon Grand

Large halls. Great food – in fact I believe that Cinnamon Grand is the one hotel where you can’t go wrong with food. And the wedding packages were great value for money too which was a considerable factor. But the hotel being a relatively new one, it did not have the personality that I expected from the place that I will be starting my new life in. Therefore, it had to go.

Cinnamon Lakeside

Not a big fan of the Lakeside food. I feel that it somewhat lacks the flavour profiles that my Sri Lankan palate expects. Besides, the wedding hall seemed congested with too many pillars and low ceilings. Again the lack of personality troubled me.

The Hilton

Everybody and their aunt’s maid has their wedding at The Hilton Colombo these days. Besides, I wasn’t too impressed with the food. The staff did not seem too friendly either.

Hilton Colombo Residences

I did not like the hall. The ceilings were too low and it lacked character. Food wasn’t too impressive either. Besides, I wanted somewhere with the sea.

The Kingsbury

The Kingsbury had the advantage of being near the sea, but that was pretty much about it. The hall seemed too gloomy – although it was right next to the beach, it had no view of the sea. The hall that did have ocean views was much too small to accommodate my crowd. Also, I wasn’t too impressed with the food.

The Galleface Hotel

The Galleface, much to my horror, was undergoing a major renovation at the time. But we were assured that the hotel would be ready well before the wedding date and it was. The Galleface Hotel had always been one of my favourite spots to hang out in. This is the place we would have family outings, lunch and dinner and I was a mighty fan of their exquisite Victorian High Tea with the resplendent sunset in the background. Besides, it had history. And I’m a sucker for all things with a story to tell.

The food was great before the renovation, but we weren’t too sure whether the hotel was able to retain the previous quality or not. Before the renovation, the service was somewhat bordering on careless, so we were skeptical about that as well. The Galleface Hotel was also the most expensive among all the hotels that we looked at, (Yes, it currently even tops The Hilton), and we were not sure if it is worth the investment to spend so much on the hotel. But I had ties with the place that I just could not break but I too was vacillating between Cinnamon Grand and The Galleface due to the uncertainty factor. And my father, being the cool dad he is, was determined that I should have exactly what my heart desires. And so, The Galleface it was.

During the first few months of booking, we were apprehensive. It was difficult to meet anyone from the hotel to discuss wedding plans, the hotel was still under renovation and hotel staff was hard to find. Whenever we dropped by the hotel to see the hall, we had been turned away saying that there was no one there during weekends and that we need to come on a weekday. It was during this time that we got a coordinator from the hotel. We asked questions, he was patient enough to answer the thousand questions we had to ask (excuse me, but we are getting married for the first time ok) but had the snobby condescending attitude of most hotel PR persons. He was helpful but he never once went out of his way to find anything out for us. Then out of the blue as we were trying to contact him the other day, we were informed that he left the hotel. We were assigned a new girl that I never met but who my parents liked and said was very sweet. But after a few weeks, we were informed that she too had left. And then we met Krishanthi Perera. The universe was alright again.

I only met Krishanthi just three weeks before the wedding date and from the first meeting itself she won our hearts. Her know-how on all wedding-related things and even her suggestions on menu items helped our decision making process so much easier. In a country where the service sector means that one has to beg and plead to get something done, it was a very welcome surprise to have her and the entire Galleface team go the extra mile to cater to our every whim and fancy. What’s most important is that she was always available. If she could not answer the phone, she always calls back and she was also there right throughout the event to make sure that everything was just fine. This is crucial because I know from observing other weddings and from my firsthand experience at my brother’s wedding as well, that hotel coordinators usually disappear when the wedding date gets near and are nowhere to be found on the actual date if something goes wrong.

Another thing I liked about her was the fact that she thinks on her feet and actually comes up with useful suggestions that never occurred to us before. We checked into the hotel the day before and before I even had to ask for it, a full length mirror had arrived in my room. This I suspect, was something that Krishanthi had initiated. And I must say, in a world where everybody just does what they are told like machines without bothering to think beyond anything else, that this thoughtful nature is very much appreciated. And I could tell you right now that this girl has a very bright future ahead of her.

I also asked for more lights as the room lights were too dim for dressing and that requirement too was promptly fulfilled within less than 15 minutes. Everybody was friendly and supportive and on such a stressful day as the day before your wedding, this sure means a lot. I felt calm and relaxed. The day before the wedding, Krishanthi also made it a point to summarize all our requirements including the menu and email to us a final confirmation which I, being a creature of method, very much liked. This was a sure fire sign of methodical execution and if I had any doubts about the hotel, the moment I saw that email, I knew that I had nothing to worry about.

Now I am aware that no other hotel undertakes the pressing of bridal attire, but The Galleface Hotel undertook even that and Dhammika, from the laundry section also deserves a mention for his prompt and ready response and excellent service in pressing all our wedding clothes to perfection.

There is simply no faulting it. We spent the wedding night at a lovely suite allocated for us by the hotel complete with a breathtaking view of the sea, a luxurious Jacuzzi, a bottle of champagne and sparkling wine, homemade white chocolates, nuts and strawberries and cream. We were told that this was one of the two best suites in the hotel and indeed it was a fine suite to spend one’s wedding night in. From the reception to the lovely gentlemen who helped us carry our bags, everybody was full of smiles and ever ready to help. Yes, you do pay a premium price. But you end up receiving premium treatment in return.

The photographers

I have been knowing Anu Amarakoon from Amarante Lifestyle Studio for quite some time but the reason I chose them is not because she is my friend. I chose them because I liked what I saw in their wedding photography – natural, creative and fairytale-like with attention to detail like I’ve never seen in any other photographer before. And they were just wonderful on the day of the wedding as well. Even though the dressing took longer than we thought and we were way behind our photography schedule, they did not allow us to feel stressed at all. There was no pressure, we were being ourselves and they captured the moments, guiding us gently whenever necessary. Even during the function we did not feel their presence at all. Now this is what every wedding photographer must strive to be – unobtrusive, with attention to minute detail, creative and super duper supportive. We are yet to see the outcome and the speed with which they deliver the results, interactions and etc and I shall write a separate post on that when we do. But I am sure that whatever it is to come will be as exceptional as their wedding day coverage.

The videographers

Siyak Seenu

Initially, we contacted Siyak Seenu (despite the many claims, rumours and warnings that they do not take “local” weddings as seriously as they do expat weddings), since they were the ones who did my brother’s wedding and my sister in law’s sister’s wedding after that and there wasn’t much to complain about. They confirmed that the date was available and that they can definitely take us on and that they are locking down 7th March for us. So we let the videographer matter rest, having reserved a videographer for the event, we crossed that off from our ‘to-do’ wedding list. So after a few months of trying to catch hold of the fellow to pin down a meeting, many unanswered phone calls, emails and text messages later( a call, an email or text twice a week for a month or more), he finally informs us (that is after I called him, not the other way around) that they were unable to take on our wedding since they had gotten another shoot for one of their corporate clients. Isn’t it first-come first-served? Why did they tell us that they were available on the said date if they were not? Why did they confirm our booking if they were not certain? We were at an utter loss. Suffice to say that it was highly unprofessional of them and that the stress that we went through to find another at such short notice was overwhelming. Needless to say I would not be recommending them to anyone hereafter. The rumours proved to be true after all.

Duminda Nawaratne Videography

And then at the recommendation of a friend, we contacted Duminda Nawaratne Videography. Completely chill and very down to earth, we liked him from the first meeting itself. And judging by his previous work, he had just what we wanted – the casual and natural shoots, the incredible attention to detail and an enthusiasm for his craft. We thanked our lucky stars that we found him just in the nick of time.

One thing I really admired about him was that he was always available and always reachable. Usually one has to chase down photographers and videographers to get a word in sideways but that was not the case with these guys. We met Duminda only once – the rest was finalized over Facebook chats and two phone calls maximum. It was ideal.

Usually at weddings, the videographers choreograph the entire event and are quite bossy and demanding too. But these guys were totally laid back and observant, capturing key moments and just staying in the background without getting in the way. We were hardly aware of them being there! They nailed the job and we are looking forward to the results.

The Band

For us, being music fanatics, not having live music on the most important day of our lives was simply not acceptable. So a wedding band was a must. The invariable choice was Black, who I have seen play several times. Although I have seen them play at several weddings, hubby boy being a complete stranger to their performances was a bit skeptical. However the easy going way in which Ranil dealt with us was very reassuring to us – being always available, friendly and open. We met Ranil Amirthiah for the first time, just a week away from the wedding and if any doubts existed with regards to our band choice, it all evaporated then. This roly-poly fellow is a bundle of positive vibes. We bonded instantly and when we voiced out our concerns about the crowd being an elderly lot not being too keen on dancing, he assured us “don’t worry about a thing. I will rope them and drag them to the dance floor if I have to” (rough paraphrase) and I am happy to say that he kept his word!

I think it’s fair to say that the band kept the party going. They made it their life’s mission that day to make sure that everybody was having fun, especially us – the couple who would have otherwise be wringing our hands under the stress among the hullabaloo. They made everybody get off their butts and really shake it on the dance floor, an art they have perfected to a “T”. Ranil was our unofficial event compeer for the day as well, leading the crowd from the lunch buffet to the dance floor to lining up the crowd to say goodbye to the couple. We were laughing right throughout the event and at the end of it, I had the train of my dress hitched up around my knees on the dance floor just going crazy. I’d recommend Black anytime, any day.

7th March 2016 was a very special day. The thump of traditional drums, the somersaulting Kandyan dancers making our heads spin, the heavy but breathtaking attire, bagpipers, horse carriages and the works. It was truly phenomenal. A memorable day surrounded by people who matter to us the most – thank you all for making our day that much special.

I think I want to get married again!

General wedding tips

  • Avoid the 20 bridesmaids and the groomsmen if you can. I had none and that’s what made the whole thing simple and easy. Good for you if you do have the time looking into other people’s jewelry and saree brooches and knickers but why should you? Really, your wedding is about you. It’s about you having fun and not being stressed out. Not to mention the cost – all for something that the said 20 bridesmaids and groomsmen will never wear again for the rest of their lives. Might as well invest all that time and money on something that you as a couple would personally enjoy.
  • Keep it simple. My priorities were great food, convenient location for people to attend, comfort for the couple and the people, proper adherence to traditions during the ceremony and prominence to immediate family. No fancy champagne fountains, no 6 feet tall rigifoam cake structures, no towering pillars of expensive flowers, no group shots of my grandmother’s brother’s cousin’s daughter’s school teacher’s entire family. We splurged on the food and we splurged on comfort. But we cut back on unnecessary trivialities.
  • Plan ahead. I started a good year or so before. Booked the hotel first as this would be the hardest part, the photographers and videographers and the band. This way, your mind is at peace to think more clearly towards the actual wedding date.
  • Keep in constant contact with your hotel, the photo and the videographers and etc. Let them get to know you. In the end, it will be like working with friends. Which is what you really want.
  • I would highly recommend checking –in to the hotel you are going to have your wedding in the date prior. This would enable you to get some peace of mind and get some well needed rest and will have you fresh as a daisy the morning of your wedding. I checked in to the hotel with my whole family – mother, father and brother and they too had some rest. Had they been at home, they would be bombarded by well-meaning friends, relatives and etc and a million last minute stuff and they would not have had any rest either. Checking in to the hotel the afternoon prior, my friends is the secret to a smiling bride and groom and a relaxed family on the wedding day.