(By Kelly James)
One of the most important lessons in dealing with life’s fortune and misfortune is that we can choose to laugh or cry, most often at the absurdity of it all. A malevolent storm destroys a neighborhood with the exception of one house, one of two twins receives fame and fortune while the other suffers constant defeat and humiliation, even a well-placed gambling debt can make or destroy a person. Life is fascinating when one considers the minute variations that lead to (seeming) happiness or tragedy. Writer Shreekrishna Padhye has always been fascinated by these situations. His self-declared love of dark comedy has led him to create a number of disturbing and yet laughable productions. Rather than showing us the real hero that each of us has the potential to become, Padhye finds amusement in showing us all how potentially sinister we can become…or possibly how wary we should be that those around us might become. His stories of the baser aspects of human nature exhibit proof that he has made peace with the self-centered facet of the members of society.
The pervasive sentiment in a large number of the stories which Shreekrishna writes is not judgmental, although the viewer might impose their own sense of right and wrong onto what they witness in them. It is Padhye’s contention that human motivation and action is a delicate precipice on which circumstance and emotions teeter. He concedes that while many of us wear the visage of ethics, we all are suspect until placed in situations that test our resolve. Padhye explains, “Humans are generally peaceful until they’re not and I’m fascinated by how little it can take to push someone over that line. It’s not easy to acknowledge the darkness that resides in every one of us and I feel that through humor you can ask these tough questions without making the audience defensive. I think people are inherently selfish. That isn’t a pessimistic statement, because we are all motivated by the same desire to survive. This also doesn’t mean people are bad. Being altruistic or bad is the result of our selfish motivations and the situation.
Shreekrishna’s “Longshot” is more a character study than simply a story. In the film, a mailman drops a package off at a residence as a man and wife are in their middle of their weekly ritual of watching the lottery drawing. During the delivery, the wife squints at the TV and erupts in excitement as she sees that they have won the lottery. They break open a special bottle of champagne and offer a drink to the mailman. The postman recognizes opportunity and before the couple can call the Lottery Board with their winning numbers, the mailman procures a knife from the kitchen and stabs them to death. With the couple dead and no obstacle between him and the fortune, the mailman picks up the ticket. It’s at this point that he notices the numbers all match…with the exception of one. He discovers the wife’s reading glasses…which were unused when she saw the winning numbers, he killed for nothing.
What is so interesting and such an important part of Padhye’s writing is that he lays some of the blame (thought not evenly) on both victim and perpetrator. In the film, the mailman tries to change what he feels is his miserable existence by stealing the lottery ticket and ends up killing the couple. The husband invites the mailman in to celebrate because sharing his happiness amplifies it. Both sides of this story are motivated by selfish reasons. The intersection that both sides of this equation share is greed. One may be more socially acceptable but the outcome for all involved parties is destruction. Shreekrishna reveals that he has always been suspicious of lotteries because they seem to amplify greed and selfishness, thereby creating a perfect setting for him to construct a tale of humanity’s shortcomings.
The plot itself is fairly simple, but this isn’t the source of what makes so many filmmakers and audience members fans of Padhye’s writing. The sense of knowing and relatability that he brings to his characters is palpable. They seem familiar in a way that is sometimes too close for comfort. The Mailman feels that life has not given him the proper opportunities and he must correct it through his own actions. The wife focuses her energy on this “get rich quick with luck” idea that she feels will ultimately allow her to have the things she desires. The husband feels that he serves at the behest of his wife and under the surface may resent this. He “goes along to get along.” It’s the source of the characters and their true motivations that make the story work. Padhye had discussions with each of the actors playing these three main roles about what their characters felt and truly thought versus what they exhibited on the surface. He relates, “One of the pitfalls a writer needs to avoid is molding the characters to fit a particular story. This will make them seem unrealistic, instead the better approach is to create conflicting characters in a tense situation and let them tell you how a something would play out.
In this case the comedy arises not necessarily from the quirky characters but from the situation that they find themselves in. It’s naturally funny to see people fall and make a fool of themselves. The mistakes the husband and wife make in this film are relatively benign (being overly friendly with their mailman) but because the circumstance is so unusual and there’s a lot at stake, this mistake ends up costing them their lives. The mailman’s character is funny and relatable because he is a rookie… at crime. We can laugh at his failure without him having to act in an exaggerated manner.”
Audiences were thrilled by the film but even more exuberant were the actors of “Longshot” who were given the chance to play such layered characters. Asdis Thorlaksdotti, the Icelandic actress who played the wife in the film describes, “Great writing like the kind Shreekrishna creates gives an actor the opportunity to think and discover. There are a number of ways to communicate this character and discussing them with him was an exercise in creativity…which doesn’t always happen for actors. He brilliantly explored the sinister impulses that lurk just beneath the surface of normal everyday life, and ended up creating something truly unique and refreshing. It was an immense pleasure to find the humor, the malevolent situations, and actions in this film.”