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Ambani’s big rich Indian wedding brings global elite to Mumbai

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Ambani’s big rich Indian wedding brings global elite to Mumbai

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A pantheon of global 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 testament to the wealth and power of the country’s elite.

Anant Ambani’s marriage to Radhika Merchant, daughter of a healthcare billionaire, is being celebrated this weekend at the Ambani-owned Jio World Convention Centre in the Bandra Kurla Complex, an upscale district moulded by India’s leading corporate clan, boasting glitzy shopping malls and a prominent arts venue.

The celebration is the culmination of months of wedding events, which have offered a showcase of India’s growing clout on the global stage, led by the wealth, power and influence of tycoons such as Ambani, chair of Reliance Industries, an oil refining, telecoms and retail behemoth.

“The Ambanis are playing the game of the super-rich in India, trying to out-do and one-up the over-the-top celebrations of other super-elites,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center. This extravaganza was also “a sobering reminder of India’s soaring economic inequalities”, he added.

The festivities opened in March with a three-day prenuptial party near Reliance’s Jamnagar petrochemical complex in Gujarat, where attendees including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Ivanka Trump and Larry Fink were treated to a live performance by Rihanna.

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

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

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

Local media has speculated about the star-studded guest list, suggesting the opulent affair could be attended by figures including former UK prime ministers Boris Johnson and Sir Tony Blair, HSBC chair 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 multiple charitable events, including personally serving food to villagers, the final gala in Mumbai has elicited frustration from residents of the congested megacity. Police have imposed traffic diversions from Friday to Monday around the Jio centre to handle the large influx of VIPs for an unnamed “public event”.

“It will be madness for the next three or four days,” said a person involved in planning the nuptials.

“They’ve taken over the entire place . . . the venue is owned by them, the area is pretty much owned by them, so nothing can move in that place,” said one businessman exasperated at the months-long celebrations, who preferred to remain anonymous. “It’s ridiculous.”

Mukesh Ambani and the crowd hold their hands together
Reliance chair Mukesh Ambani, third left, and members of his family attend a mass marriage ceremony last week for underprivileged couples, ahead of his son’s wedding © Punit Paranje/AFP/Getty Images

A pre-wedding Mediterranean “La Dolce Vita” cruise hosted by the Ambanis in May also drew complaints from locals in Italy over loud 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 an oversized mouse helmet, was also forced to cancel a Friday concert in Mumbai at short notice ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is expected to attend the wedding and inaugurate infrastructure projects.

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

The prime minister’s anticipated attendance was also reminder of the close political connections Reliance has forged over 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 without a will.

Reliance’s three main business units have been divided among Mukesh’s children, and last year the trio were elevated to the group’s board.

Kugelman said the wedding “helps to give Anant some added publicity, to show that he’s ready for primetime”.

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