Fabian Bielinsky, the director of Nine Queens, has died. If you’ve never seen it, Nine Queens is a taut, gripping Argentinian movie about the machinations of low and high level confidence rackets told in a the span of a single day. The title comes from a the film’s principal job, the sale of nine very rare stamps by the film’s protagonists, one a seasoned veteran, and the other an up-and-comer who is begrudingly being tutored for the day by the vet.
If this sounds a little like the plot from Bluffmaster, you’re right. However, Bluffmaster is not a direct copy of the story. To say any more would spoil both movies, but I can imagine that Rohan Sippy saw Fabian Bielinsky’s film and wondered if and how it would be possible to make a plot like that work in an Indian film — and he succeeded admirably. Bluffmaster and Nine Queens share one scene, but the rest of the plot, characters, events and motivations are markedly different (therefore putting that one shared scene firmly into ‘homage’ territory, not a shot-for-shot ‘inspired’ movie).
I like to think of them as companion movies. Watch both. If you’ve seen neither, watch Nine Queens first. Nine Queens itself was officially remade into an American movie, Criminal* (which I haven’t seen, but by all accounts it’s okay).
(* No relation to Mahesh Bhatt’s Criminal, which was in fact a bizarre copy of The Fugitive, except that Tommy Lee Jones’s character was played by a woman cop in love with the hero)
A similar style of ‘remake’ — if one may call it that — occured between one of my favourite Korean movies (and indeed, one of Korea’s favourite Korean movies), My Sassy Girl, and last year’s Neal’n’Nikki. Again, the two share one scene and a somewhat similar plot structure, but diverge completely from there (and at the end of N&N, the plot even does a twist that seemingly was designed to surprise people who had already seen the Korean film.
I must say, I have absolutely no problem with this kind of ‘remake’ — half the stories I think up are in response to something I’ve seen or read. Sometimes you come out of a movie and say, “Well, if I were to make it…” and go on from there (Star Wars is apparently a copy of Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress — damned if I care). Reaction to stimulus — any stimulus, be it from real life or from an existing work of fiction — is the root of much of creativity.
What I don’t like, however, is laziness. I don’t like shot for shot remakes of movies that their irritating directors pass off with shrugs of “there is no such thing as an original story” — Look, it’s actually a little painful to see a set of well-written, dare I say ‘original’ set of characters parading around the plot of The Usual Suspects (for a better take on The Usual Suspects‘s classic twist, it pops up in Anubhav Sinha’s Dus) or a director wasting good actors in her personal fantasy of making Dirty Dancing (and then doing it badly). You’re halfway there, why not go for it and do it right?