To the dulcet strains of ‘Ala Pol Vela Pol’ from the 1993 film Yajaman, I walk into Sin & Tonic in T Nagar where I am greeted by waiters dressed in khaki and checked shirts, sunglasses, and scarves — a very obvious celebration of Rajinikanth from the film Baasha.
The crowd trickles in to a playlist of Rajinikanth film songs, and a specially curated Thalaivar cocktail and appetiser menu. Abhishek Bharathkumar is set to begin the Rajinimania Quiz Night.
Chennai’s pubs are where many in the city engage in some spirited competitive banter and revel in the warmth of a trivia community, while winning a prize or two. Over the last couple of years, the burgeoning pub quizzing scene has been welcoming experts and amateurs alike for quiz nights.
“Two-hundred and twenty people signed up for my Rajinikanth Quiz and we had 228 for the AR Rahman one. It was the biggest I’d hosted,” says Abhishek who started out conducting quizzes on Instagram during the pandemic, and moved on to hosting a private quiz at Black Orchid every second Sunday.
His themed quizzes in Sin & Tonic over the last year have had a loyal participant base, with scope for an occasional celebrity sighting. Cricketer R Ashwin was a participant at his Madras quiz.
Actor Lakshmipriyaa Chandramouli, who has participated in Abhishek’s Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, AR Rahman, and Friends quizzes says pop-culture centric themes are a big draw. “They are a perfect mix of fun and heady nostalgia. Kollywood-themed nights are so rare in the city’s night scene and most of these quizzes involve Tamil music and dance,” she says.
Lakshmipriyaa is quick to add that the quiz nights are also fun occasions to bump into many people, something that stand-up comedian and marketer Guru Nicketan says adds to the appeal. “I have a regular team I participate with, and have made several new friends. I love the dopamine hit that comes with getting a question right,” he says.
Typically with five to six rounds, Abhishek’s quizzes have not more than 60 questions, and take place over 90 minutes.
Friends and banter
The charm of getting together with your regular quiz team, and meeting new people along the way is definitely a big draw — something Arjun Mohan especially attests to. Arjun, who has been hosting quizzes at Watson’s, Velveteen Rabbit, and Purple Chameleon says that in 2019, it was at a pub quiz that he first met his wife.
“Post the pandemic, we’ve been seeing more of the younger crowd coming out to participate in these quizzing nights, in addition to those who were once quizzers. The number of neighbourhood pubs in Chennai have increased, and there are so many more options,” he explains.
Each venue in Chennai, Arjun says, has a different vibe. “My general quizzes are tailored to these audiences, and every week is different. I like to engage with the participants, and give them a shot or two when they willingly participate in the banter,” he laughs. In March this year, Arjun will be hosting a magnum opus quiz of sorts — to celebrate six years of running the pub quiz at Watson’s in Chennai.
With men having dominated the quizzing space for years now, the Chennai demographic seems to have a healthy balance of genders. A regular at Arjun’s quizzes, writer-actor Sukanya Umesh says there are a lot more women now, and that the atmosphere has always been welcoming.
The quizmasters and the teams prioritise on keeping the atmosphere fun. “A good 40% of the crowd that comes in are regulars, and 60% is new every edition. We observed that themes focussed on entertainment worked more in terms of audience engagement and participation,” says Mridula Vinod of Strikr Integrated, a creative agency working with Sin & Tonic. Mridula and her partner Lekhamitra say that picking the right theme, and having it trickle down to their creatives, the menu and the ambience has a huge role to play in setting these quizzes apart from the others in the city.
Chennai’s Pub Quizzes- Where to head to
Sin and Tonic- Friends TV show quiz, February 1 by Abhishek Bharathkumar
Watson’s – January 25 (on all Thursdays) by Arjun Mohan
Velveteen Rabbit – January 31 (alternate Wednesdays) by Arjun Mohan
Purple Chameleon – January 28 (on all Sundays) by Arjun Mohan
There are gift vouchers, sponsored travel coupons, and even bottles of imported liquor to be won in addition to shots and shooters on the house.
For the younger millennials who have lived in Chennai for over a decade, the Madras Pub Quiz from back in 2014-15 at Hotel Savera’s Bay 146 was the earliest introduction to a pub quiz, complete with a grand prize of a vodka cocktail pitcher served inside a large, hollowed out watermelon.
“Back then, many people came because it was a completely new concept. However, it is now a trend, and has become an expectation we have from most pubs in the city,” says Abishek Swaminathan, an avid quizzer who used to co-host the Madras Pub Quiz. Last year, Abhishek hosted a trivia night at a popular bar in the city, and also held a New Year’s eve special quiz themed on films, at the Westin.
“The biggest plus here is that you don’t have to have a background or experience in quizzing,” he says, adding, “If you are looking to dip your toes into quizzing, the chilled out and accommodating pub quizzes are a great place to start.”