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Meet the Ambanis: Everything you need to know about Asia’s most talked-about party

Guest list includes Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sunder Pichai, Ivanka Trump, Bollywood celebrity Shah Rukh Khan and legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar

Namita Singh
Tuesday 05 March 2024 10:26 GMT
Related: Highlights from Anant Ambani-Radhika Merchant’s pre-wedding festivities Day 3

Celebrating news of an engagement might normally involve a small gathering with a few friends and family opening a bottle of champagne – not a three-day extravaganza featuring a private show by Rihanna, an after-party performance by Akon and the groom’s mother wearing a £47m emerald necklace.

But the Ambanis are no ordinary family, and this was no ordinary pre-wedding party. The celebration offers a glimpse into the dizzying wealth of Asia’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, who put on the event to announce his youngest son Anant Ambani’s engagement to longtime girlfriend Radhika Merchant, who is herself from another wealthy industrialist clan. The wedding itself, which isn’t for several months, promises to be one of the biggest in recent memory.

Running from Friday to Sunday, the event was characterised by displays of stunning jewellery, precious gems and daring couture pieces. The bride-to-be wore a pink Versace gown previously modelled by Blake Lively, and the estimated 1,200 guests were put up in luxurious tent accommodation with a legion of hair stylists, make-up artists and traditional Indian saree drapers on hand.

Celebrities including Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Ivanka Trump and Shah Rukh Khan had over 500 dishes to choose from over the course of the three days, prepared by around 100 top chefs. The catering contract alone was rumoured to run to around £20m, while some reports put the total cost of the event at £120m – about 0.1 per cent of Ambani’s estimated $120bn fortune.

The event was so massive that the Indian government was forced to temporarily upgrade the local domestic airport in Jamnagar in western Gujarat so that it could accommodate the private jets arriving from all over the world. The have been some mutterings of local criticism that an Indian Air Force facility deemed militarily sensitive should be used for such purposes, with pop-up desks for immigration and customs run at public expense.

This photograph released by the Reliance group shows from L to R, billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani, son Anant and wife Nita, posing for a photograph as guests gather to celebrate Anant’s wedding in Jamnagar, India, Saturday, 2 March 2024 (AP)
This photograph released by the Reliance group shows from L to R, Jared Kushner, daughter Arabella and Ivanka Trump posing for a photograph with billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani, right, at a pre-wedding bash of Ambani’s son Anant Ambani in Jamnagar, India, Friday, 1 March 202 (AP)
Mukesh Ambani, the Chairman of Reliance Industries, Radhika Merchant and Nita Ambani, share a moment during the pre-wedding celebrations of Anant Ambani and Radhika in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India (Reuters)

The entire event effectively represents a display of economic and political clout from the 66-year-old Ambani, who is currently the world’s 10th richest man. His Reliance Industries is a massive conglomerate, reporting over $100bn in annual revenue, with interests ranging from petrochemicals, and oil and gas to telecoms and retail.

Under his leadership, Reliance – founded by his father Dhirubhai Ambani in 1966 – sparked a telecom price war with the launch of the 4G phone and broadband service Jio in 2016. Today, it has more than 420 million subscribers and offers 5G services to far-flung corners of the country. Earlier this week, Disney struck an $8.5bn deal to merge its India business with Ambani‘s Reliance Industries, forming a new media giant.

The Ambani family owns, among other assets, a 27-story private apartment building, named Antila, worth $1bn in Mumbai. It has three helipads, a 160-car garage, a private movie theatre, a swimming pool, and a fitness centre.

Mr Ambani‘s critics say his company has flourished because of political connections during the Congress governments in the 1970s and 80s and subsequently under prime minister Narendra Modi’s rule since 2014. They say a culture of “crony capitalism” in India has allowed several giant corporations, such as the Ambanis and their biggest rivals the Adani Group, to thrive at the expense of greater plurality in the marketplace.

A Stanford University dropout, Ambani married Nita Dalal, a professional Bharatnatyam dancer and school teacher, in 1985. Six years after their wedding the couple had twins – Akash and Isha Ambani. Four years later, the youngest son Anant was born.

All the Ambani children have studied at Ivy League universities in the US and are now handling different arms of their father’s business.

This photograph released by the Reliance group shows Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan posing for a photograph at a pre-wedding bash of Mukesh Ambani’s son Anant Ambani in Jamnagar, India, Saturday, 02 March2024 (AP)
This handout photograph taken and released by Reliance on March 2, 2024, shows pop icon Rihanna posing for pictures at the Jamnagar airport in Jamnagar (Reliance/AFP via Getty Images)
This photograph released by the Reliance group shows L to R, Bollywood stars Amir Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan performing at a pre-wedding bash of billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s son Anant Ambani in Jamnagar, India, Saturday, 02 March 2024 (AP)

Akash Ambani, who graduated in economics from Brown University, is now chief of strategy at Reliance Jio Infocomm. Isha Ambani, a graduate in psychology from Yale University, is now a director at Reliance Jio Infocomm and Reliance Retail.

Their youngest sibling and this weekend’s groom-to-be also attended Brown University and serves as a director at an energy business operated by Reliance.

Growing up, Anant “was highly asthmatic” so he had to take a lot of steroids, his mother told Times of India in 2017. The treatment resulted in a lot of weight gain, she said. During his pre-wedding speech last week, he thanked his parents for their support and said his life had never been a “bed of roses” due to his health issues.

“I have faced many health crises since childhood but my father and mother have never let me feel it,” he said, according to the Indian Express. “My father and mother have always stood by me, and they have made me feel that if I can think, then I can do it.”

Extravagant parties like this weekend’s, that saw the first full-length live show from Rihanna in eight years, are the Ambanis’ speciality.

How else does one get Ivanka Trump to attend a “magical evening in Everland” event in a quiet corner of the country, alongside her husband Jared Kushner, in dazzling gold and silver striped sequin saree with chandelier earrings.

Or get Mr Zuckerberg and his wife Pricilla Chan to break away from their typical lives of quiet luxury, donning black outfits designed by Alexander McQueen.

On the Saturday, the Facebook founder kicked the style up a notch with a shimmer tigress-themed shirt.  That night, Chan wore a two-piece outfit decorated with nature-themed adornments including two gold birds and Zuckerberg wore an outfit that was modeled after wildlife with flowers. And on Sunday, Chan took to Instagram, sharing the outfit of their final night – a purple saree with small floral designs, while Zuckerberg wore a beige Sherwani.

This photograph released by the Reliance group shows R to L Paula Hurd, Bill Gates, Indian Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani and her husband Zubin Irani at a pre-wedding bash of Mukesh Ambani’s son Anant Ambani in Jamnagar, India, Saturday, 02 March 2024 (AP)

This was not the first time the Ambanis have gone big with their wedding celebrations.

In 2018, when his daughter married, Ambani successively booked global megastar Beyonce to perform at the pre-wedding festivities. At the time, former US Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were among those who rubbed shoulders with Indian celebrities and Bollywood stars in the western Indian city of Udaipur.

Later that year, the happy couple, Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal, officially celebrated their engagement overlooking the picturesque Lake Como in Italy. In December 2018, they got married at the Ambani residence in Mumbai. According to The Guardian, the Ambani family at the time shelled out nearly £78m on the wedding.

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