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Chennai's MEGA buzz

Five theatres, 16 cuisines, 52 shops, a drive-in restaurant on the terrace... will the Abirami Mega Mall live up to the hype, asks T. KRITHIKA REDDY

IT'S THE latest landmark in Chennai. Yet another one that reflects the city's gradual moving away from ethnic to eclectic. Enter the Abirami Mega Mall on Purasawalkam High Road. The archaic charm of the cineplex has been replaced by an imposing, showy structure that houses a food court and shopping arcade, which the promoters call "Mall of Fun." But to the visitor, there's more to it than just fun. For it's a mall with many firsts. So if you're musing over the lost frontage, you might as well give up and pat the promoters for bringing to the city some of the latest tech-driven lifestyle concepts.

Take this one for a sample: A drive-in restaurant and digital theatre on the terrace. Car lifts with road view taking you to the top for that get-away-from-it-all experience! Retractable roof with automatic sensor that instantly shuts when even a drop of rain touches it — sure not to dampen your spirit, isn't it?

If you're still feeling on top of the world on the terrace, well... it's time to touch Level 1. And here, the novelty starts... from the ambience. It's like revisiting the mystique of ancient Egypt. A clutter-free food court with an arresting 32-ft statue of Isis to keep one company through a meal! The roof, a visual treat of paintings reminiscent of Egypt, is also enlivened by a fibre-optics display of the galaxy.

Time to meet the man behind the mega mall. Abirami Ramanathan, as he is popularly known in cine and Rotary circles, is obviously on a high. Months of conceptualising and planning have finally paid off. Though not fully ready, the mall was inaugurated on Deepavali day. "Stand-alone theatre, multiplex, and now, mega mall," he beams. It's what futuristic outings are about. A one-stop destination where people can watch films, shop and eat. And it's not as if there's no variety. If you take cinema, there are five options. There is a multi-level shopping opportunity and 16 cuisines on offer."

"The mega mall has been designed in such a way that the existing theatres in the erstwhile Abirami multiplex remain untouched by change. So, on an average, we expect 7,000 people to hit the venue per day. Since cinema-goers have to pass through the mall, part of the crowd is sure to trickle in for shopping and food," he explains.

Going on to some of its other firsts, Ramanathan says, "It's the first commercial building in the city with Seismic Zone 3 design. The shops will be open till 11 p.m. and a giant digital video screen flashing advertisements and happenings at the mega mall will be put up on the exterior of the building to attract passers-by. Cultural programmes will be performed at the food court everyday between 5 p.m. and 8.30 p.m." Besides the food court (called Abirami's Planet Yumm) that features multi-cuisines ranging from Chinese to Chettinad and even exotic sawarma chicken, "fine-dining restaurants" are also planned. "To avoid unhealthy competition, only self-service is encouraged at the food court. Though the cutlery is common, there is specific colour coding for vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Famed hotelier Mahadevan is meticulously overseeing the menu at the food court to avoid duplication of items."

This principle extends to the shopping mall as well. "Care has been taken to see that each shop is unique." The shops, barring two of the 52, are yet to be occupied, so one has to go by Ramanathan's description of the range (garments, textiles, jewellery, accessories, etc.) And what will the clientele be like? "We are not targeting a niche segment because we want more people to come and enjoy the experience."

The continuing element in the varied levels of the mall are the Egyptian paintings, all beautifully rendered by P. Ramachandran. Incidentally, he is the creator of the Isis statue too, which is said to be the biggest ever fibre-glass work in Chennai. Why Egyptian? Why Isis? And

Ramachandran explains, "Egyptian themes hardly adorn interiors, so the designers of the mega mall took a fancy to them. Further, they are vibrant and add that much desired colour and energy. As for Isis, she is the closest connection one could find to our own Goddess Abirami." What's more, the paintings are protected to prevent damage. Don't miss the acrylic sheets that make them touch or tamper proof!

While the Egyptian works link the different levels, a massive painting featuring a clutter of Tamil showbiz faces — both yesteryear and contemporary, with the caption "Abirami Mega Mall Hall of Fame", anchors the building's present to its past.

Five theatres, 16 cuisines, 52 shops, a terrace drive-in restaurant... this could perhaps be the ultimate indulgence for fun buffs. But hold on... it should take at least a fortnight before all the facilities are open to the public. And after that, well... it's for you to determine if the hype is justifiable.

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