It’s a Sunday afternoon in January at Garden Grove’s Great Wolf Lodge, known for its indoor water park, and the first floor is packed with families in swimwear navigating their way through waterslides and whirlpools.
But on this day, the second floor is equally bustling with a more formally-dressed crowd: the brides- and grooms-to be, performers and vendors attending this year’s Bollywood Bridal Show, a wedding convention that caters to the South Asian community but has expanded to include Southeast Asian wedding needs.
Hardev Sangha of Horse for Wedding is trying to sneak in a catnap, despite the Bollywood dance music booming in the background.
The night before, he was up until 2 a.m., not only helping his friends — fellow Fiji-born Indian immigrants Baljit and Bimal Sandhu of Dhamaka Entertainment — prepare for the convention, but also working a job at a wedding at the Doubletree by Hilton hotel in Irvine.
If you’ve been to a South Asian wedding in Southern California, where the groom arrives to the venue on a white horse as part of the baraat (groom’s procession), chances are you’ve seen Sangha, the man standing close by, making sure the horse obeys commands.
There are two police-trained horses available for Horse for Wedding clients: 12-year-old Smiley and 10-year-old Chamak Challo, who live with Sangha and his family on their Mira Loma ranch property.
“Chamak Challo” translates to “hottie-ass,” Sangha says with a grin. (It’s slang for an attractive woman; it was, for example, used for the 2011 hit Indian song “Chammak Challo,” sung by Akon for the Shah Rukh Khan film “Ra.One.”)
Horse for Wedding is one of over 50 vendors at the Bollywood Bridal Show. About 700 attendees came through the five-hour event, estimated Bimal Sandhu, who with his brother Baljit, have hosted the convention in Garden Grove since they began in 2013 — for the last three years, at the Great Wolf Lodge.
“Orange County is the most central place,” says Sandhu. “People from L.A., San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside and even Ventura come here.”
He and his brother started working as wedding DJs about 20 years ago. They launched the Bollywood Bridal show because they sensed there was a growing demand for a convention where brides- and grooms-to be, as well as their families and friends, could do all their wedding shopping in one place.
“We started with speakers and one or two blinking lights,” says Bimal Sandhu, of their first wedding gigs. “Now you can see, it’s so big. We have different designs, up-lighting, flooring, stage decorations, all kinds of productions. Every five years the whole wedding industry changes … it’s getting bigger and bigger.”
Other eye-catching booths at the Bollywood Bridal Show included Taj Mahal Tents in Anaheim, which provides luxury tenting. Dilliwala Indian Kitchen from Diamond Bar was in attendance serving kulfi (ice cream) and raj kachori, a popular Indian street snack.
There were booths for makeup, clothing, photography and flower arrangements — even business cards lying around for Adil Ashiq, dubbed “Mr. Proposal Guy,” who provides services like engagement planning, anniversary & dating recipes and “wedding wingman.”
But the Bollywood Bridal Show’s main event was a performance by the Adaa Dance Academy, based in Irvine, and a fashion show debuting the 2019 collection of the South Asian wedding boutique shop Dreams Collections, run out of Artesia by designer Sakshi Dosaj and her daughter-in-law Payal Shah Dosaj.
Many local businesses like Dreams Collections and Horse for Wedding have been vendors at the Bollywood Bridal Show since the beginning.
But even large hotel chains in Orange County are starting to see the value of having a booth there.
“I’d say 90% of the [wedding-related] phone calls that we get are for South Asian weddings,” says Patty Romero, the Hilton Anaheim’s events services manager who is attending for the first year.
Romero says that it was important for them to get the word out that their hotel accommodates specific needs for a South Asian wedding. For example, they allow outside catering, they have large outdoor decks that can hold up to 900 guests on either side, they can accommodate live animals and luxury cars in their valet loop for the baraat, and they even have flame-retardant linens for ceremonies that require open flames.
“We really want to learn more, embrace the culture and make people feel like we want them there,” says Romero.
Sangha, who has been running Horse for Wedding since 2005, understands that even though he considers his line of work a continuation of a thousands-year-old tradition, for other Americans, it’s a novelty to see a groom on a white horse fully decorated with red-and-gold embroidered headpieces and drapes, white-beaded necklaces, and ankle bells — sometimes followed by a carriage and dhol (drum) player.
Hotel guests that aren’t part of the wedding always come up to him and his horse to take photos.
“I’m famous,” he jokes. “Everywhere, a lot of people see me … so if anyone wants to get in on some of this action, Bollywood-style, we’re just waiting for the next [customer.] Who’s next in line?”