Ambani’s lavish Indian wedding brings the world’s elite to Mumbai

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A pantheon of world celebrities, politicians and business leaders are descending on India’s financial capital for the wedding of the youngest son of Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, in a tribute to the wealth and power of the country’s elite.

Anant Ambani’s marriage to Radhika Merchant, the daughter of a healthcare billionaire, is being celebrated this weekend at Ambani’s Jio World Convention Centre in the Bandra Kurla Complex, an upmarket neighbourhood shaped by India’s leading business clan, with gleaming shopping malls and a prominent arts venue.

The party is the culmination of months of wedding events that are a showcase of India’s growing influence on the world stage, led by the wealth, power and influence of tycoons such as Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, an oil refining, telecommunications and retail giant.

“The Ambanis are playing the game of India’s super-rich, trying to outdo and outshine the extravagant celebrations of other super-elites,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center. The extravaganza was also “a sobering reminder of India’s sky-high economic inequality,” he added.

The festivities kicked off in March with a three-day wedding celebration at Reliance’s Jamnagar petrochemical complex in Gujarat, where Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Ivanka Trump and Larry Fink, among others, enjoyed a live performance by Rihanna.

Earlier this week, Justin Bieber landed in Mumbai to perform at the couple’s wedding. sangeetor musical ceremony, where guests mingled with Indian film and cricket stars.

Lanterns and streamers hang from the building and trees
Mukesh Ambani’s Mumbai home, Antilia, was decked out with decorations ahead of the celebration © Rajanish Kakade/AP

Antilia, the Ambanis’ towering home in Mumbai, was abuzz with activity. Indian musicians performed outside, while the adjacent street was festooned with golden lights. Videos released to the media showed the Ambanis performing Bollywood numbers, with Mukesh pretending to drive a classic open-top car, lip-syncing with his wife Nita to a song from a 1968 Hindi film as they hugged their grandchildren.

Local media have speculated about the star-studded guest list, suggesting the lavish affair could be attended by figures including former British prime ministers Boris Johnson and Sir Tony Blair, HSBC chairman Sir Mark Tucker, FIFA president Gianni Infantino, boxer Mike Tyson and the Kardashians. The Ambani family has not confirmed the guest list.

While the family has also held several charity events, including personally serving food to villagers, the latest gala in Mumbai has left residents of the overcrowded megacity frustrated. Police have imposed traffic diversions around the Jio centre from Friday to Monday to handle the large influx of VIPs for an undisclosed “public event”.

“It’s going to be crazy for the next three or four days,” said one person involved in the wedding planning.

“They’ve taken over the whole place… the location is theirs, the area is mostly theirs, so nothing can move in that place,” said one businessman irritated by the months-long festivities, who asked not to be named. “It’s ridiculous.”

Mukesh Ambani and the audience hold their hands together
Reliance Chairman Mukesh Ambani (third from left) and members of his family attended a mass wedding ceremony for underprivileged couples last week ahead of his son’s wedding © Punit Paranje/AFP/Getty Images

A pre-wedding Mediterranean “La Dolce Vita” cruise organized by the Ambanis in May also drew complaints from locals in Italy about noise and the closure of coastal areas in Portofino. The cruise included performances by Andrea Bocelli, Katy Perry and the Backstreet Boys.

Canadian DJ deadmau5, known for performing in a giant mouse helmet, also had to cancel a concert in Mumbai on Friday at short notice because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit. He is expected to attend the wedding and inaugurate infrastructure projects.

Modi’s presence, which has caused a gridlock in Mumbai in the past, meant that “the planned venue is no longer available for use as per the guidelines of the relevant authorities,” the gig’s organizers said in a statement. Representatives of deadmau5 did not respond to a request for comment.

The prime minister’s expected presence was also a reminder of the close political ties Reliance has forged in the decades since it was founded by Mukesh’s father Dhirubhai Ambani. The family hails from the prime minister’s home state of Gujarat, as does fellow tycoon Gautam Adani.

Reliance did not respond to a request for comment.

The extravagant celebration also comes as the conglomerate prepares for a third generation leadership succession, following a bitter battle between Mukesh Ambani and his younger brother Anil after their father died intestate.

Reliance’s three main business units are divided among Mukesh’s children. Last year, the three were appointed to the group’s board.

Kugelman said the wedding “gives Anant some extra publicity, to show he’s ready for the big TV shows.”

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