By Nimra Amir, October 1 2023—
Seemingly connected only by their shared love for the famous Bollywood film Aradhana, starring icon Sharmila Tagore, Fawzia Mirza’s directorial debut The Queen of My Dreams — screening at the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) on Sept. 28 and Oct. 1 — follows Azra (Amrit Kaur), a queer Pakistani daughter living in Toronto, Canada to pursue an acting career and Mariam (Nimra Bucha), her conservative Muslim mother living in Karachi, Pakistan to take care of her family. That is until Azra has to fly back to Pakistan after the sudden death of her father Hassan (Hamza Haq) where she finds herself on a journey through memories from her coming-of-age in rural Nova Scotia and from her mother’s Bollywood-inspired youth in urban Sindh, Pakistan.
“The film is personal. But also, the film is fantasy. It is inspired by some of my memories and some memories I know of my mother but it is also inspired by collective memory,” Mirza said.
The journey is one that most first-generation daughters in Canada with family from Pakistan know all too well. From hearing microaggressions by teachers to feeling like you are missing out on eating ham sandwiches to dealing with proposals from guys who want either a religious scholar or a maid — but also, from hearing the moustache jokes from loved ones to loading up your plate at dinner tables filled with food like biryani and kebabs to sneaking in late after being out with a guy you actually like. It is these moments, good and bad, that make up the collective memory which allows for representation beyond what I could fathom.
Especially because, as Mirza said, “Everything that was set in Nova Scotia was shot in Nova Scotia and everything that was set in Pakistan was shot in Pakistan. I have always wanted my motherland, and my mother’s land, to be my land.”
It is through this representation of Azra and Mariam that we learn that they are not only connected by their shared love for Aradhana and Tagore but are connected by these collective memories of what it means to be a woman finding herself while managing her relationship with her family, even when it may seem difficult because of the obvious differences that daughters come to have from their mothers — like being queer and Muslim in the case of Azra or wanting to move out of the country in the case of Mariam. But ultimately, these differences can be reconciled with enough love even if not between daughters and mothers then within ourselves.
“[The film] started as an art installation project. I was like ‘I am going to shoot this footage and it is going to be in this gallery.’ Then a friend helped me turn it into a film,” Mirza said. “I was having a really private struggle that I processed really publically of if I could be queer and Muslim and still love Bollywood romance and fantasy. It was through making that project and sharing it with others that I was like ‘Of course.’”
The Queen of My Dreams takes on that reconciliation by depicting a Pakistani-Canadian family with the backdrop of colourful sets and light-hearted humour along with serious but relatable moments that showcase the Pakistani community, and especially the queer Pakistani community, in a way that I have not yet experienced in Canadian cinemas.
To buy tickets for The Queen of My Dreams, visit the CIFF website.