Glamorous Indian Waterfront Resort Wedding
Melanie & Neeraj
They found love in New York City, and made it official in the Caribbean. Actor, Melanie Kannokada and now husband Neeraj Chandra's spectacular destination wedding set in the stunning Turks and Caicos Islands, is nothing short of breathtaking.
The gorgeous couple treated their guests to a magical few days of beautifully themed wedding events at the picturesque Amanyara Resort. Every detail was perfectly executed with a personal touch. The chic and heartfelt wedding details combined lovely touches of South Indian sentiments, with a bit of Bollywood thrown in for good measure. Both the bride and groom were impeccably styled for each occasion, thanks to a winning team at the online boutique store, Exclusively and leading Indian fashion designers (including Manish Malhotra) who personally helped the bride with her each look for her bridal trousseau. This will no doubt be a wedding that we will often come back to for its timeless style and modern sensibilities.
We are thrilled to have the beautiful bride, Melanie, share exclusive details of this memorable wedding with The Crimson Bride.
About The Couple
How we met
We first met in college when he was a senior and I was a freshman. He had asked me to go on a date with him several times, but I was a little skeptical. Three years later we literally bumped into each other in the middle of New York City and immediately fell head over heels for each other. By our second date, we knew we wanted to marry each other (of course the actual proposal came years later). The rest is a whirlwind, but ultimately, I found myself marrying the man of my dreams.
How he proposed
Neeraj asked me to take a weekend trip with him to the Amanyara Resort in Turks & Caicos Islands. One evening he asked me to meet him at the beach during sunset but he was nowhere to be found. Whilst searching for him, l I came across a sign on the boardwalk that said “Melanie”. Slightly confused, I kept walking and saw another sign that said, “It began 8 years ago…”. More meaningful signs followed, leading me to a private area of the beach. There I found a jigsaw puzzle. I’m obsessed with puzzles, something Neeraj knew well, and I got right to work. The picture was shaping out to be of a boy and a girl, facing each other, and in love. But there was one piece missing right where the boy’s hands would be. This piece was cut in the shape of a heart.
Just as I started to realize what might be happening, Neeraj came out of hiding and handed me the last piece. When I put it in, the completed picture was revealed – the boy was holding a ring, proposing to the girl. Neeraj then got down on one knee and asked the big question. I’ll never forget how happy I was in that moment, nor will I ever forget the look on his face when I said “yes.”
What marriage means to us
Marriage is an extension of our friendship that further solidifies us as a team, ready to take on the adventures of life ahead, hand in hand. It’s the commitment to love each other unconditionally, the commitment to prioritise each other and our families above anything else.
We spent 12 days in different parts of South Afria - Capetown, the wine country (in the towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch), and then two different safaris (Kruger National Park and Tswalu in the Kalahari Desert). It was honestly the most incredible trip I have ever taken.
The whole process really was a labor of love. Neeraj and I are quite specific and detail-oriented, so we poured our time, energy, and deep contemplation into make the wedding an event everyone would remember for a lifetime. And the results exceeded our expectations. Our goal was simply, 'How do we create a magical, memorable, and fun experience for our family and friends, that is a true reflection of ourselves, our love, and gratitude?'. We knew from the start that we wanted a wedding that was equal parts fun and class and an unforgettable weekend for our guests.
LOCATION & VENUE We had always fancied a destination wedding – we really wanted to create something special and memorable for our guests, who would be flying in from all over the world. We explored many international destinations but ultimately landed on the same place where Neeraj proposed, the stunningly picturesque Amanyara Resort in the Turks and Caicos Islands. It’s one of our favourite places in the world, and we wanted our friends and family to fall in love with it just like we had.
RESOURCES & TOOLS: Once we decided on the venue, we had only eight and a half months to plan everything. We spent countless hours researching (Pinterest, blogs, E-magazines, talking to other couples, etc.) to develop our initial ideas for the types of events and experiences for our guests. We created extensive spreadsheets and online documents to share and keep track of everything. This was an effective way to communicate especially when we had to work long distance and across time zones for four months (I had to go to LA to work on some projects, Neeraj was in NYC).
WEDDING PLANNER: We brought on board the amazing wedding planner, Sonal. J. Shah Event Consultants, to help bring our ambitious vision to life. She has such a vast experience with Indian destination weddings; we knew she was the one right away. After the wedding day, we received countless compliments on how “meticulously planned” and “beautifully and perfectly executed” the wedding was. We owe that to her; she and her team were remarkable.
When it came to bringing together the rest of our team (photo, video, makeup/hair artist, etc) we were very specific and discerning. I had a vision of how I wanted things to look and be captured so I spent a lot of time researching, meeting with, and selecting the right people to make it happen. They all did an incredible job.
INVITATIONS & STATIONERY: Ceci New York. The process of designing our invitations was a surprisingly tedious part of the wedding planning process. We wanted the invitations to be a reflection of our personalities and something that would clearly set the tone for what was to come. We wanted something that exuded chic, fun, island wedding, Indian, class, and whimsical. Also, I really wanted the invites to have illustrations. That’s a lot of criteria.
We worked with our invitation designer at Ceci, and after ten or so iterations, we came up with the perfect design and illustrations, which ended up being used again for all our stationary for the wedding weekend itself (welcome letters, table cards, menus, etc) to continue the theme.
DECOR & STYLING: As the Amanyara Resort has such a striking beauty of its own, it was important for us to keep the décor elegant yet simple as to enhance the natural beauty of the surroundings and not compete with it – lots of candles and lanterns in the evening, soft coloured florals with vibrant pops of color when needed.
Our wedding planning team, Sonal. J. Shah Event Consultants, did an incredible job in running with our vision to create an oasis of gorgeous scenery which left all of our guests speechless. From building a bridge across an infinity pool to reach our mandap (which overlooked the ocean) to covering an entire villa in candles of varying heights, to suspending hundreds of paper lanterns above a reflecting pond, each event was very picturesque.
We worked closely with old friends of ours - Mohini Boparai and Sunjay Gularia of Exclusively.
For the most part, I started first by deciding on the overall look and feel of each event, I scoured Pintererst and fashion blogs to get inspiration on the types of pieces (fabrics/colors/cuts) I would wear in those settings. I also scoured the designs of my favourite designers (while discovering new designers in the process) to see who had an aesthetic sensibility that might fulfill my vision.
For my wardrobe, I needed four distinct looks, so each look had its own mood board. I even had mood boards for my bridesmaids and our family’s attire – I wanted everything to be perfectly coordinated. I’m very much a visual person so having these mood boards were critical for me.
Being based in the US, it’s a little intimidating to think about sourcing an entire bridal wardrobe from the opposite side of the world. Neeraj and I also didn’t have the luxury of time to make any sort of extended trip to India. That’s where Mohini and her team were key. Once I shared my mood boards with Mohini and Sanjay, and their team at Exclusively.in, they presented a lookbook to me with options from my favourite designers as well as other designers they thought would be a good match for my vision. I was then able to fly into India for just a few days and meet with some of the designers I had shortlisted for my trousseau. When I got back to the US, Mohini arranged some FaceTime and Skype appointments with them to go over the design and fit. Customized design sketches were also shared and tweaked via email exchanges.
One would think shopping for your wedding attire online would be risky, but I had a really successful experience. Mohini’s team ensured I was able to get the customizations I needed and most importantly, access to the best designers around. I loved each of my outfits and they all complimented my ceremony themes so beautifully.
All events were held at Amanyara Resort. We were fortunate to be able to rent out the entire resort for the weekend so that all the guests could be hosted on the property and we could create a private and unified experience. The staff there were amazing and treated our guests to a world-class service, which meant a lot to us. Some guests also stayed at the Gansevoort Turks & Caicos.
The wedding was held over an extended weekend in May 2015:
- Mehendi Gathering, Wednesday AM.
- Mehendi Party, Thursday PM.
- Bollywood Sangeet Soirée, Friday PM.
- Baraat and Wedding Ceremony, Saturday AM.
- Reception, Saturday PM.
We had a very international crowd, 250 guests from all over the world – Brazil, London, France, Mexico, South Africa, India, and of course the US. It was very much a jet-setting crowd; financiers, actors, actresses, heads of tech and fashion startups, and our families from all over the US and India. We wanted every event to be distinctly different from each other in theme and décor.
The wedding festivities kicked off with was a small Mehendi Gathering on Wednesday during the day. This was an informal function with close family and friends, before the rest of the guests started arriving on Thursday. The purpose was to have the mehendi to be ready by Thursday night so I could move around and enjoy the Mehendi Party the following night.
MELANIE'S OUTFIT: For the Mehendi application during the day, we wanted the look to have an informal boho-chic vibe while still keeping it Indian. I envisioned light fabrics and something flowy. I spotted a crushed silk light blue embroidered Ritu Kumar flowy skirt on Exclusively’s site and knew that was the one. I paired it with a plain beige tee.
JEWELLERY: In line with the theme, I wore some boho styled jewellery custom made by my friend, hair, makeup and stylist, Susmita Patel of Style by Susmita.
HAIR & MAKEUP: Style by Susmita.
MEHENDI ARTIST: Style by Susmita.
Held on Thursday night, this was a fun, colourful and bohemian styled event that was held in a private villa in the resort. There was a space decorated with hundreds of candles and lanterns, along with an area that the guests were able to get their mehendi done.
MELANIE'S OUTFIT: I wanted to springboard off of the boho-chic style from earlier in the day into something still bohemian, but more vibrant and whimsical. Exclusively suggested a Manish Arora pop themed lehenga-choli with appliquéd golden hearts, baroque embroidery and vibrant colour palette of electric blues, pinks and reds. I loved it from first sight. This ended up being one of my favourite looks from the wedding.
SHOES & ACCESSORIES: Arranged by Mallika Oberoi.
HAIR & MAKEUP: Style by Susmita.
NEERAJ'S: A custom grey nehru vest and white shirt, with blue slacks.
Bollywood Sangeet Soiree
The evening started with a cocktail hour during sunset, followed by some choreographed dances and a few speeches. It was all MC’d by our close friend and stand up comedian - Rajiv Satyal. Delicious Indian food followed, catered by chefs from New York-based Tulsi. The dance party kicked off with a performance from my maid-of-honour's NYC-based dance company, Sa Dance Company. Their performance led to a group Bollywood dance by the entire bridal party of 22 people. Afterward, everyone joined the dance floor.
- Sangeet dance preparations: The most fun aspect of the wedding planning was working on all the Sangeet dances. We had a bridesmaids dance, a groomsmen's dance, a duet for Neeraj and I, and then one huge group dance. I rounded up my maid of honour (Payal Kadakia of SA Dance Company and ClassPass) and all my local bridesmaids - many of whom I’ve danced with on stage in the past - and we were able to come up with the choreography to my favorite Bollywood songs. The whole process brought us much closer together as friends.
However, the best part was witnessing Neeraj and his friends learning their dance. They didn’t have dance backgrounds so it was even more adorable to see how focused and eager they were to learn and get the moves right. A special thanks to Rohan Sheth of Doonya for creating the choreography for the guys' dance, set to the song, Lungi Dance from the movie Chennai Express.
- Sangeet poster: A décor element that people loved were the giant Bollywood movie posters Neeraj and I created that formed the backdrop of our Sangeet dance party. Since Neeraj's family is from Chennai, we thought it would be fun to photoshop our faces on the Chennai Express movie poster – him as Shah Rukh Khan, and me as Deepika Padukone. It was so fun!
- Entertainment: We hosted virtuoso sitarist, Iklakh Hussain of Raga Sitar, to perform during our Sangeet cocktail hour, followed by DJ Insomnia. Members of SA Dance Company also performed at the Sangeet.
Bollywood Sangeet Soiree Look
MELANIE'S OUTFIT: Since we had “Bollywood Soirée” theme, I wanted to bring out the Bollywood in my attire – and there’s no one better for a glam Bollywood look than Manish Malhotra himself. Together with Exclusively, we decided on a flowy midnight-blue gotta-patti lehenga, golden choli and a light-as-air crimson red dupatta. Before I even tried it on, I knew it would be the winner. It had a great flow to it and I was able to dance the night away in it.
JEWELLERY: All jewellery was custom made by Susmita Patel of Style by Susmita.
SHOES & ACCESSORIES: Shoes and purse provided by Mallika Oberoi.
HAIR & MAKEUP: Style by Susmita.
The wedding ceremony was held during the day on Saturday. The celebrations commenced with a baraat procession around the resort property which led into the wedding ceremony. The ceremony was a traditional South Indian ceremony that was condensed to under an hour (which is short for a South Indian ceremony!). Following this, the guest enjoyed a cocktail hour by the beach during sunset and before the Reception.
HIGHLIGHTS & UNIQUE DETAILS:
- Wedding registry: We decided to donate our wedding registry to two charities very close to our hearts. And we were absolutely blown away by the generosity of our guests. In total for both charities, our guests contributed over $150,000 dollars, it was remarkable!
- Mandap: Organised by Sonal. J. Shah Event Consultants and florals by The Peloton Group. We had our mandap designed with blush pink fabrics and vibrant pink florals. We tied the pink theme together by providing pink parasols for every guest. I got so emotional when I witnessed the whole thing come together in person – it was like a dream! So beautiful.
- First look: A memorable moment was when it started pouring just a few hours before the wedding.. and then stopped, right on time. To most people’s surprise, I actually embraced the rain - I felt, at that moment, that the rain was some sort of blessing. It created this beautiful and romantic mood on the entire island. During the rain shower, our guests even took to swimming in the rain in their pools at their villas, having the time of their lives. When the clouds cleared, the island had cooled off, the sky was beautiful, and we were still on track for ceremony events.
- Walking down the aisle: My most memorable moment, however, happened when I was “backstage” before my wedding ceremony entrance. My Dad came in to stand by my side to walk me down the aisle. It was the first time he was seeing me in my wedding dress. I will never forget that moment. I took one look into his proud, loving eyes and couldn’t hold back my tears of love and joy. We had both been dreaming about this day for so long. Thank goodness my bridesmaids were there with me – they would tell me silly jokes so I would stop crying as to not mess up my makeup before I walked down the aisle.
Wedding Ceremony Look
MELANIE'S OUTFIT: Originally for my big day, I wanted to be a traditional Kerala bride wearing the palette of white and gold, but infused in a modern silhouette. However, as the design and setting of Ceremony was finalised, we realised that a more vibrant colour would be more striking with the blue sky and ocean as our ceremony backdrop. We then decided to go with a vivid red and gold palette, which would still be keeping in tradition with Neeraj’s family.
I turned again to one of my favourite designers, Manish Malhotra, for a lehenga that would be striking, traditionally inspired, yet with a modern feel. The outcome was an intricately embroidered red and gold silk lehenga, a minimalistic styled high neck red choli, and a light chiffon dupatta with brocade borders. Organised through Exclusively.
JEWELLERY: I wore custom kundan jewellery sets designed by Susmita Patel of Style by Susmita. This completed my wedding look.
HAIR & MAKEUP: Style by Susmita.
NEERAJ'S OUTFIT: Custom gold dhoti set by Tarun Tahiliani.
NEERAJ'S SHOES: Botega Veneta.
Bridal Party Look
BRIDESMAIDS: Custom made sarees designed by the bride and made in collaboration with Shehnaai Couture in New York City.
GROOMSMEN: Outfits arranged by Mallika Oberoi. She is an upcoming Mumbai-based designer and was so resourceful with our wedding outfit preparations. She even helped get outfits for 20 of our male guests last minute - so a huge thanks to her!
The Reception was held on the evening of the Wedding Ceremony after a short break. This was a formal event, with men in summer suits and women in either traditional Indian wear or summer gowns. It was romantic and chic. After dinner, we had a surprise firework display timed meticulously to coincide with our cutting of the cake and the climactic key change in Sky Full of Stars by Coldplay as the background track. It honestly couldn’t have gone more perfectly. It created such an energized moment that our cheering friends stormed the dance floor, picked Neeraj and I up into the air, and the dance party erupted.
HIGHLIGHTS & UNIQUE DETAILS:
- Setting and decor: Our reception was held on the infinity pool deck overlooking the ocean. We had gorgeous shimmering blush pink table linens that made the whole scene sparkle. We used a lot of candlelight and florals provided by The Peloton Group in red, and pinks to create a very elegant and romantic vibe.
- Entertainment: For our reception cocktail hour, we had the talented local singer/songwriter Sally Greenwood playing in the background, followed by New York based DJ Sam French.
- Impromptu pool party: The best part of the wedding weekend was something that no one could have planned at all. Halfway through the night, our formal wedding reception turned into an impromptu pool party! Guests jumped into the infinity pool, fully clothed in their suits, gowns and saris. By 1 AM, there were over 150 guests dancing in the pool, overlooking the ocean, a beautiful starry sky overhead, and one of NYC’s top DJ’s spinning until dawn. It will be a night to be remembered for years to come.
MELANIE'S OUTFIT: I wanted to wear soft pastel shades to set off the romantic tone of the event as well as a silhouette that would make me feel like a true princess. Through our research together, Mohini of Exclusively and I kept coming back to various outfits from Sabyasachi's ‘Ferozabad Collection’ that we loved and ultimately decided on an intricately embroidered blush pink lehenga gown that shimmered to perfection under the starlight.
SHOES: A pair of Tom Ford strappy sandals,
HAIR & MAKEUP: Style by Susmita.
NEERAJ'S OUTFIT: A custom made navy blue Nehru jacket and white slacks by Shantanu & Nikhil.
Tips For Brides-To-Be
- When planning the event, put yourself in the shoes of the guests. They have come far and wide to celebrate this special day with you. How can you make the experience enjoyable and seamless for them?
- When planning your bridal looks, start as soon as you can. It takes a lot of time to produce, ship, and alter Indian wear, and on top of that you need matching accessories for multiple outfits. We started late in the process (just 2-3 months prior to the wedding day) and we were down to the wire in getting our outfits in time. It was really stressful, so please, get your wardrobe decided and ordered well in advance.
- Meet in-person with important professionals that will be with you throughout the wedding event prep – photographers, makeup/hair artists, videographer. You want to make sure that you are surrounded by the right kind of positive energy during this time.
- Lastly, I would say to keep in mind that things won’t go perfectly as planned, and that’s OK. Stay positive and forward-looking. Focus and embrace what is most important: having all your loved ones in the same place to celebrate one of the biggest moments of your life. It’s priceless.