The Queen Of My Dreams


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Queen Of My Dreams
"Mirza may sometimes over-indulge in sentiment, but there’s a warmth to the film that makes it easy to like, and she handles its more chaotic scenes with flair."

Empathy and connection are to be found not in shared characteristics but in parallel experiences in Fawzia Mirza’s gorgeously presented romantic drama, which screened at the 2023 Toronto and Leeds film festivals. Based on Fawzia’s 2012 short of the same name, it’s the story of Azra (Amrit Kaur), a young Canadian woman who lives in Toronto with her girlfriend Rachel (Kya Mosey), and of her mother Mariam (Ninra Bucha), who lives in Karachi and has barely spoken to her when she came out. The two women are reunited following the death of Azra’s father Hassan (Hamza Haq), whom they both adored, but it will take a lot more than that to bring them together in any meaningful way.

Azra grew up worshipping her mother, whom she pictured as a Bollywood heroine, always immaculately dressed and presented. Beyond their shared life, however, she actually knows very little about her. For her part, Mariam doesn’t want to know about Azra’s life, and holds on to the belief that she can be fixed up with a nice young man some day, that she will be happy in traditional feminine clothing if only she tries it. Naturally, these clashing ideas make Azra’s visit to Karachi a trying time for both of them, not least because of their different feelings about the strictly gendered rites associated with the funeral.

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In the midst of all this, however, Azra begins to discover something about her mother’s past, and learns that she came into conflict with her own mother over her relationship with Hassan. Most of the film focuses on this love story from the past, controversial because of Hassan’s desire to move to Canada, taking Mariam away from her family. Kaur takes on the role of Mariam in these scenes, looking very different not just because of the two women’s different feelings about gender but also because of the film’s magnificent use of Sixties fashions, which really do make her look like an old fashioned movie star. Cinematographer Matt Irwin expands on this to create a colour palette for these scenes which is vivid and vibrant and perfectly complements the chemistry between the two leads. It also presents a striking contrast to the more dour look of a country which has grown more conservative over time, just as Mariam herself has.

Also woven into the story are scenes from Azra’s childhood (she’s played by Ayana Manji as a child), subsequent to the young family’s relocation. Here the bond between mother and daughter is strong, but Mariam is struggling to deal with the consequences of her decisions, which include letting go of the very dream that connects the two. The elegance which she brings to her new world is not reflected in her surroundings. It seems to attract admiration but it’s also isolating. This is not a culture of which she can become a part, and she is torn between the two branches of her family.

Although this plot structure sometimes feels a bit too heavy and obvious, Kaur acquits herself well and there’s a lovely turn from Gul-e Rana as her self-centred yet doting grandmother. The strong sense of each place and time gives is a much-needed specificity, and Michael Pierson’s production design is superb. Mirza may sometimes over-indulge in sentiment, but there’s a warmth to the film that makes it easy to like, and she handles its more chaotic scenes with flair. All in all, there’s certainly enough on offer to make you want to come back for more.

Reviewed on: 11 Nov 2023
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Against the backdrop of a shared obsession with Bollywood fantasy, Mariam, a Pakistani Muslim woman, and her Canadian-born daughter Azra come of age in two different eras.

Director: Fawzia Mirza

Writer: Fawzia Mirza

Starring: Amrit Kaur, Nimra Bucha, Hamza Haq, Charlie Boyle, Trina Corkum

Year: 2023

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Canada, Pakistan

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