In a heated scene in Ramkumar Balakrishnan’s Parking, two men sprint in their cars to get the better of each other. The scene is so nail-biting that for a second you forget that it’s a 60-something government senior and a 20-something IT employee galloping in their Suzuki Swifts to park their vehicles in a tiny parking spot and not hightailing it in their Ferraris to win a race. The Tamil thriller, which is now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar is a small film about a big idea — how far will men go to defend their ego. Two neighbours (Harish Kalyan’s Eshwar and MS Bhaskar’s Elamparuthi) from a small Chennai suburb lose their minds over a tiny parking space that bounds their house in Parking. Ramkumar knew he wanted to pick a subject audiences could immediately identify with. And is there anyone in the country who hasn’t had a run-in with parking?
“This is a story that anyone who has a bike or car will relate to. So, I made use of this subject to tell a story about ego clashes.” In this interview, the director discusses what it is about parking that makes one fly into a rage and why that excited him enough to make a film.
Excerpts from an interview:
What was the starting point of the film?
Everyone relates to parking issues. I too have faced a few issues about parking. And when I told my friends about my experiences, they shared theirs. So when I thought of doing a full-fledged film about ego clashes, I wanted to use this concept to explore our psyche. I spoke to so many people who had cars and lived in rented and own houses and listened to their personal problems. That's how Parking developed.
Parking issues are often considered trivial. How did you see a film in such an issue?
I had this car, which I used to park outside my house all the time. One day, a neighbour who lived five houses down the road, came up to me and told me to park my car outside his house. I was confused initially because he promised me he’d take care of my car like it was his. In the end, he told me not to take my car out at all because he didn't want this other person to park their car in the spot. It was such a funny incident, but it somewhere made me realise how seriously people take it.
The film builds tension organically. With every incident, MS Bhaskar and Harish Kalyan rebuild the walls around them, the scenes raw with nerves.
I couldn't have pushed this as a light-hearted fun film because it’s a small concept. When you tell a story with intensity, the impact is different. When I wrote the script, MS Bhaskar sir instantly came to mind because we all had seen a different side to him in 8 Thottakal (2017). So, I was thrilled to show him with negative shades. We also don't have a hero or a villain. It is the circumstances that push these men to their extremes.
The casting of MS Bhaskar is particularly interesting because his eyes convey the pain and rage much before his dialogues do.
I have enjoyed his work ever since his role in Soodhu Kavvum (2013). He has many emotions inside him — anger, pain and irony. He is someone who craves performance-heavy roles. If I ask him to give me one reaction, he'd give me five variations to choose from. In so many places, he didn’t react because he believed "no reaction is still a reaction." For example, in the scene where Harish Kalyan's car takes reverse, he'd just be leaning against the wall. He wouldn't smile or glare, but his gaze conveyed something else. Even in the climax, when he sits face-to-face with Harish, he'd just be still. After we finished the shot, he pulled me aside and asked me whether he noticed something. He hadn't blinked even once for the entirety of the conversation because he had felt that was needed.
A scene as small as two cars rushing to get a parking spot was treated with the tenacity of a nail-biting thriller. Tell us about your discussions with editor Philomin Raj.
He was such a big support for me because he took out the time to guide me despite working on so many big films at the time. We sat together with a bound script and discussed where and how to cut the film. In fact, we even discussed scenes shot-wise. We'd often have very deep discussions in the pre-production process.
At the end of the day, the movie is about male ego and its eventual effect on the women around them. It was quite nice that it was Rama, his wife, who got to call Elamparuthi out on his attitude.
We knew the dialogue would work well. So many people would relate to them because, in her head, a mixer is much more important than a car. The dialogues for Rama ma'am just fit aptly.
Tell us about the house. Where did you find it?
We were very particular about the house because it was almost a character in the film. We looked at around 150-180 houses for this. A few were nice, but the house owners weren't willing to give it to us. And a few of them didn't have great streets. We finally found a house in a residential area, where we shot all the exterior portions. I wanted a flight of stairs outside the house. Geographically, we had written this in the script, so I wanted the stairs to be visible outside because that is how I could focus on all characters clearly in the frame. It was also a space where both families met often. The street was also bustling with activity, so it was quite exciting, atmospherically.
A lot of the scenes were shot from inside the car. You always notice a pair of eyes from the rearview and side mirrors. Even the scene before the climax, for instance, is framed from the car.
We treated the car just like we treated the artists and were able to set the mood quite well. We discussed all of this with the cinematographer and worked it out. For instance, two cars stand right next to each other before one of them races inside in a scene, and you see both their eyes in the mirrors. We wanted the car to keep telling a story by itself.
How challenging was it to expand this small nugget of an idea into a feature film?
When I developed this idea, a lot of them asked me how I could make a 2-hour film out of this. Even I asked myself this question. But that is what excited me. A lot of the stories I heard, too, helped. A friend told me about a homeowner who parked his bike in his parking spot and when he moved his bike, hell broke loose. One of them told me how a person cut off his internet fibre wire because of parking problems. The first half seemed complete to me, but the second half was challenging because how much can you keep talking about a parking spot?