Leisure in Madurai has taken a new turn as entertainment hotspots are pulling in the crowds.

Madurai for long has been tagged as an entertainment-starved town. But of late people are spending time in style. Games, multi-dimensional video screens and other entertainment arenas have come closer. Weekends are no longer meant to be spent at home. TV watching, temple visits, kadai veethi cruises and kulakarai gossip are gone, and families descend on malls to window shop, eat out, and have fun.

The latest hotspots are gaming lounges in Vishaal Mall, installed by local and global companies. From mamas and mamis to kutties, everyone goes gaga over these games.

Bowled over

For sports lovers the right place is the ten-pin bowling alley that opened four months ago. “Unlike olden days, people are ready to splurge for fun,” says Kalidas, manager at the bowling alley. “Most of the gamers are kids and teenagers apart, from a few oldies. The bowling alley has become a family recreation spot.” Brought to town by a Hyderabad-based entertainment firm, the alley is nearly 56 metres long and is built over 620 square feet. It has three lanes.

Mahesh, winner of the Chennai district-level bowling tournament, explains, “It’s a simple game. Ten frames are counted as one game and a frame includes two shots. If a player clears all the pins at the first shot, it is called a ‘strike’ and if it takes two shots to clear, it is known as ‘spare’.” He adds, “This is the only place in South Tamil Nadu to have a bowling alley and on average we get 70 gamers per day.”

Abbas, a regular bowler, says, “It is fun-cum-fitness. Bowling burns calories and promotes weight loss. It strengthens joints, ligaments and tendons.” According to Muthukrishnan, system administrator, bowling is a great way to gauge one’s state of mind as the game reflects the concentration levels of an individual. “As it is a group activity, it also helps you make many new friends.” Though there are rules for the game and the score board keeps showing your points, most of the people who come to the bowling alley are playing for fun. Swanky well-lit interiors and a chirpy young crowd make you feel upbeat and peppy. A game costs Rs.100 per head and the alley is open on all days.

If you are more interested in video gaming, then walk into an adjacent play area that has over 46 machines with various 3D games, including car races, shooting games, puzzles, and dancing and motion sensor games. Reveals Kalidas, “Apart from the kids, even homemaker mothers play these games.” Some of the games popular among children are Fast and furious, Time Crisis, Hippo Park and Candy Factor. Racing games are fancied by middle-aged women. Sarada, a homemaker, says, “I don’t drive on real roads. But virtual car driving gives me a similar feeling.” Valli says her children find the mall play areas the place to relax. “Tamukkam ground was the only place we used to go for entertainment as kids,” she says.

Adrenaline rush

If these don’t excite you, head for Horror House, a walkthrough designed to terrify. Once you enter the house, a corpse hanging upside down gives a deafening scream and a real-looking rubber snake falls from above. Next is a raised platform that shakes as you step on it. You cross ghosts and finally come out sweating! Horror house has seven stages to scare you. “We have planned to add five more stages,” announces Gopalakrishnan, the MD. “The idea came from my visit to Hong Kong. We have used pneumatic operations to enable automatic actions.”

Props and installations are bought from China, while compressed air is used to activate the machines. Motion sensor is installed all over the walkthrough so that the sounds and lights automatically turn on. Manager A.P. Murugan says, “Such walkthroughs are used as techniques to dispel feelings of fear and exhaust the shock quotient. It has been only 15 days since we opened and the response is tremendous.” He adds, “In countries like Singapore, men disguise themselves as ghosts and operate. But here we have made it fully automatic.”

Says Dinesh, a student who experienced Horror House along with his friends, “It was a stomach-churning encounter. The thrill was worth the time and money.” One round inside the house costs Rs. 40 per head and people mostly enter in groups. If horror is not your take, sign up for a simulator bull ride or dashing cars. Air hockey, balloon shooting and basketball are some of the other games ready to entertain Maduraiites.

Discos, pubs and clubs still remain a distant dream, but for the time being young people in the city are enjoying themselves.