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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 18:12 GMT
Star show for India's 'mega-wedding'
India's top politicians, movie and cricket stars and business moguls are turning out at a wedding hosted by the country's most enigmatic tycoon.

John Wright and Sachin Tendulkar
Sahara sponsors the Indian cricket team
The week-long mega-wedding of the two sons of Sahara business group chief Subrata Roy will begin in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on Tuesday.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai and cricketers Saurav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar are among the 10,500 guests who have been invited.

Describing the arrangements for the twin weddings, one Indian newspaper said it "would put a maharajah to shame".

No expenses spared

The snazzy invitation cards have special security chips embedded in them to swipe and enter the heavily-guarded wedding venue.

Over 80 rooms and suites have been booked at a top hotel in Lucknow to house special guests - state governors, chief ministers, judges, parliamentarians and journalists, it is reported.

Aishwarya Rai
Every person whom I know in the industry will be attending the wedding
Aishwarya Rai

The Sahara business group is also running 27 chartered flights to ferry special guests to Lucknow from all over India.

A team of crack Indian chefs will cook up a wide ranging feast that will include Indian, Chinese, Italian, Mexican and Lebanese fare.

The guests will be entertained by a music group flown in from London and dancers choreographed by a top Bollywood dance director.

Top Bollywood filmmaker director Raj Kumar Santoshi will shoot a film on the wedding, a top art director will "supervise the sets", and a Music Television (MTV) video jockey will anchor the programme.

Bollywood 'shutdown'

Reports from Bombay, also known as Mumbai, suggest that most of Bollywood has shut shop for four days beginning Tuesday as most of the stars are away at the lavish wedding.

Actress Aishwarya Rai told the AFP news agency that she had completed the shooting of her new film in time to take time out for the wedding.

"My family is going to Lucknow and as far as Bollywood is concerned every person whom I know in the industry will be attending the wedding," said Rai, who is also a brand ambassador for the Sahara group.

On the sidelines of the wedding, the business group has also promised to marry off 101 couples and feed as many as 140,000 poor people across the country, one newspaper reports.

Rags to riches

Subrata Roy's Sahara began in 1978 with three workers in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh as a small deposits para-banking business.

Today it claims to have grown into a $7bn diversified business group with interests in housing, entertainment, media and aviation.

Virtually unheard of even 15 years ago, Sahara today runs a private airline, entertainment and news television channels, a newspaper, and claims to own some 33,000 acres of real estate across India.

The group also sponsors the Indian cricket and hockey teams and is planning to move into life insurance, housing finance, consumer products, sportswear, and set up hospitals.

Subrata Roy, who calls himself the group's "chief guardian", is one of India's most well-networked businessman counting several top Indian politicians, businessmen and Bollywood and cricket stars as his friends.

The 25 directors of the group include a host of Bollywood and cricket stars and former bureaucrats.

Among them are Amitabh Bachchan, Rai, former Indian cricket captain Kapil Dev and present Indian captain Saurav Ganguly.

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