Fawzia Mirza’s charming debut The Queen of My Dreams begins with a familiar and heartbreaking revelation. “I used to worship my mother,” our protagonist Azra (Amrit Kaur, The Sex Lives of College Girls) says through voiceover. “I thought she was perfect. I tried to be like my mother, but I wasn’t.” 

As with most daughters navigating fractious relationships with their mothers, Azra’s entry into adulthood coincided with the shattering realization that her mother is only human. The woman who guided her since infancy and counseled her through challenging moments carries her own traumas. She doesn’t always understand Azra and, perhaps most upsettingly, she might not want to. 

The Queen of My Dreams

The Bottom Line

A familiar story bursting with a creative aesthetic energy.

Venue: BFI London Film Festival (First Feature Competition)
Cast: Amrit Kaur, Nimra Bucha, Hamza Haq, Ayana Manji, Gul- e-Rana
Director-screenwriter: Fawzia Mirza

1 hour 36 minutes

The Queen of My Dreams is Mizra’s take on a recognizable theme. It joins a formidable batch of films exploring mother-daughter relationships this festival season, a group that includes Raven Jackson’s gorgeous and poetic film All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt and Annie Baker’s quietly illuminating debut Janet Planet. But Mizra, who also wrote the screenplay for The Queen of My Dreams, distinguishes her coming-of-age dramedy by anchoring its story in Bollywood conventions, giving the film a fanciful and stylized edge. 

Azra loves Bollywood movies, especially the 1969 romance Aradhana, which she repeatedly watched as a kid with her mother. In the opening scenes of The Queen of My Dreams, a now adult Azra excitedly prepares to rewatch the film. It’s 1999 in Toronto and the young woman is studying for an MFA in acting and lives with her girlfriend (Kya Mosey). She’s estranged from her mother Mariam (Ninra Bucha), a religiously conservative woman who refuses to accept that her daughter is queer. And although Azra shares a special bond with her father Hassan (Hamza Haq), it’s clear their relationship suffers because of the tension between the two women in his life. 

With an efficient and expert opening, Mirza establishes the dynamics between Azra and her parents. Their phone calls are perfunctory reminders of their emotional distance. When Azra’s father dies of a heart attack during a trip to Pakistan, the stress of that distance becomes clearer. 

His death forces Azra and her brother (Ali A. Kazmi) to meet their mother in Pakistan, where the extended family has begun the funeral rituals. Now in her family’s home country, Azra must reckon with her mother’s humanity. 

Mirza organizes The Queen of My Dreams as two coming-of-age stories set across three timelines. There’s the immediate present, where we watch Azra and Mariam struggle to find common ground in the wake of Hassan’s death. There are flashes to Azra’s childhood years in Nova Scotia, beginning with her family’s arrival in 1989. And finally, there’s a timeline with 22-year-old Mariam living in Karachi in 1969 with her overbearing mother Amira (Gul-e-Rana). Taking cues from Aradhana, a film that casts a single actor to play the same role, Kaur plays present-day Azra and younger Mariam. (The younger Azra is played by Ayana Manji.) 

The casting threads Azra and her mother’s fates in fairly obvious ways, but Kaur’s strong performance saves the choice from feeling too much like a gimmick. The actress knows when to play up Azra and young Mariam’s similarities and when to zero in on their differences. Young Mariam grew up in Pakistan’s Golden Age, a period defined by more liberal values. It’s during this era that she meets Hassan (still played by Haq) and the two begin a heady romance that defies the tradition of arranged engagements of that period. (Mirza flaunts her sense of humor throughout the film, but it’s especially apparent during the courtship meetings between families.) 

Mariam yearns for freedom and Kaur plays the character as an aspiring actor at once seduced by and afraid of the strength of her desires. Her story unfolds like a Bollywood film, and Mirza imbues that timeline with a sugary visual language. The blues are bright, the yellows sweet. Simone Smith’s editing deepens this pop sensibility, which includes bold transitions between the timelines.

Azra and her mother share dreams (both want to be actors) and a rebellious streak. Perhaps this is why their bond is, initially, so strong. During the years in Nova Scotia, we witness the layers of their intimacy. Young Azra looks at her mother with equal parts awe and tenderness. When Mariam starts a tupperware sales business, hosting her white Canadian neighbors for tea and curry, she enlists Azra’s help to sell the plastic containers. What young Azra doesn’t see, though, is that Mariam is still recovering from disappointing her own mother, who feels betrayed that her only daughter moved away. 

The Queen of My Dreams adroitly moves between these three stories, but, with a lot of ground to cover, some of the timelines feel stronger than others. The 1999 thread can feel especially aimless and weak compared to the forthrightness of the other sections. More conversations between Azra and Mariam would have helped here; there are hints as to why Mariam struggles to accept her daughter, but it might have been worth exploring her turn to religious conservatism.

Still, Mizra has created a film bursting with creative energy and distinctive aesthetic sensibilities. Even when the narrative slackens, you’ll want to keep watching.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *