It all began in early 2019; Neil and Hemang found themselves sifting through Bumble BFF—a right swipe later, they were embarking on their first 'friendly' hike. Fast forward to 2022, friendship transitioned into love, and the two said "I do" under a rainbow mandap in Tulum, Mexico. Read on; the grooms walk us through their tale of undying love via memorable snippets from their wedding album.
How They Met
In 2019, post a Bumble BFF swipe and a few messages, Neil and Hemang decided to go on a friendly hike together. Swift was the journey and short was the distance, which at 2 blocks away, is a golden ticket for any Los Angeles relationship. Owing to flexible schedules and low pretences, they discovered similarities that led them to realise that what they shared was, in fact, far greater than a platonic bond. Taking to the skies, they travelled the globe—learning each other's quirks along the way.
A year later, the pandemic struck—pushing Neil to the frontlines. And while the world became an exceedingly unnerving and unfamiliar place, it was increasingly clear how familiar they were to one another, and what mattered to them both.
"Our fears to share our authentic selves with our families existed, but after a bit of breathing time, both sides understood that what we had together was special, irrespective of cultural predispositions," the couple confessed.
The Next Step
In May 2019, Hemang took Neil for the opening night of L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele's, prior to a film festival held at the Egyptian Theatre next door. Fast forward to October 2020—after persuading Neil to slip out of pyjamas and into something more occasion-appropriate—the couple found themselves seated at that very same table.
Hemang excused himself for a moment and walked back with one of their favourite songs playing in the background—LANY's ILYSB (acoustic). As one would imagine, Neil was caught off guard. He opened the same film festival program to find a childhood photograph of himself running through a field, along with a velvet satchel that held a ring...the rest is history.
Not one but two proposals took place—the second time around, it was Neil's turn to pop the question. In September 2021, the couple reached out to photographer Anna Mae Lam to set up an impromptu pre-wedding photo shoot at Griffith Park. Hemang was blissfully unaware that Neil and Anna had a surprise up their sleeve. The duo made their way over the Hollywood Sign to the famed park where Anna had planned the shoot. Nearer to the end, Neil asked Hemang to close his eyes. What came next? Rosé, love, and lots of laughs.
Memories That Will Last a Lifetime
"Getting 95 guests—including our parents, aunts, and uncles—to Tulum, Mexico, in the middle of a global pandemic, was something we wouldn't have imagined in a million years. However, their presence made our big day all the more memorable," Neil and Hemang revealed.
Baraat and Ballad At the Beach
"At the Radhoo Tulum, we built a floating stage atop a pool for our Sangeet night. Kerri Colby—a contestant from season 14 of RuPaul’s Drag Race—hosted the soirée, closing the show with a beautiful Whitney Houston ballad. To add to the euphoria, we had duelling baraats that led through the jungle of Nest Tulum, our wedding venue, and ultimately collided with each other at the beach. We danced down the aisle to Lady Gaga’s 'Stupid Love', and had Hersh Khetarpal, a Chicago-based pandit who herself presided over her daughter’s same-sex wedding, officiate our nuptials."
Taking the Plunge
"Our vows highlighted our journey—and the obstacles that we overcame together. We were most nervous about reciting them and wanted to make sure that we honour our mothers, who raised and inspired us, every step of the way. We donned our respective mothers' wedding saris as dupattas, pleating and pinning them to our Pranay Baidya achkans. We also self-choreographed our first dance and mother-son dances, both of which ended with a warm group hug. We closed the evening with a water drum show by the Drums in Paradise."
The Bespoke Wedding Ensembles by Pranay Baidya
"Both the grooms wished to don white on their big day—with subtle tone-on-tone embroidery and a light, diaphanous feel. The setting being in Tulum, Mexico, we desired to keep the look as fresh and eye-catching as possible. To add a meaningful touch to their attire, the grooms wore their mothers' wedding saris as dupattas. The bespoke achkans created for Hemang and Neil were crafted in lightweight, white dupion Silk, intricately adorned with tone-on-tone threadwork embroidery, inspired by traditional motifs and patterns found in Indian temples. The achkans were paired with dupion silk pants, and the fuss-free look was crafted in the Italian ‘unlined jacket style’, allowing for free movement during hotter months. The newlyweds also choose our signature Mughal Jaali print Chanderi kurtas for their Graha Shanti puja," Pranay Baidya put forth.
Countdown to the Big Day
"After attending so many large-scale, Bollywood-style weddings, we desired to host an antithesis of sorts—a one-of-a-kind intimate gathering, in the company of our loved ones. Symrin Chawla, Neil's sister, of Studio Ru, designed our wedding invitations, signs, programs, and the works. While our sangeet night was big and bold, our ceremony was quite the opposite—featuring muted, earthy tones. Our reception, on the other hand, was a green carpet gala in the jungle."
"The major obstacle that we faced was rescheduling during the peak of the pandemic—with most of our family travelling from India and Canada. As a wedding planner himself, Hemang was able to manage and execute the venue, dates, and scheduling. However, we also got Cristina from Unique Stories Weddings on board to help finalise details and bring it all together in the end," informed Neil.
Our Piece of Advice
"If you’re self-planning, ensure that you have enough spare time to go over the tiniest detail. On the other hand, if you’re working with a planner, be transparent with them. Don’t lose yourself or argue with your partner about wedding details—this celebration represents the two of you, not the others who are pressuring you. The two of us made sure that we knew what was going on every step of the way."
Living Through a Pandemic
"We spent the majority of the pandemic having to deal with Neil being on the frontlines. It was an unnerving period—but it meant a lot to Neil, who came forward to help his community. Neighbours and friends saw us through the hardest moments of this journey. Apart from that, we watched shows including RuPaul’s Drag Race, baked, grew our vegetable and fruit garden, and engaged in furniture restoration work."
What started as a platonic bond soon turned into a riveting romance—Neil Chawla and Hemang Saraiya tell their tale of sweet love.
In this sweltering weather, a spritz is all you need to keep sticky situations at bay.