The Queen of My Dreams is a charming story about love in all its forms, revolving around a mother and a daughter who have a lot more in common than they think.
“I used to worship my mother,” The Queen of My Dreams‘ protagonist tells us at the very start of the film, comparing her mum to a Bollywood heroine. “I tried to be like my mother,” she continues, “but I wasn’t.” And it doesn’t take long to notice that our 22-year-old protagonist’s relationship with her mum is fractured. But Azra (Amrit Kaur, of The Sex Lives of College Girls) and Mariam (Nimra Bucha, of Polite Society and Ms Marvel) are actually a lot more alike than they think, and, during the course of the movie, we find just how much they have in common.
Fawzia Mirza’s feature debut, adapted from a 2014 short which she co-wrote and co-directed with Ryan Logan, begins in Toronto, in 1999. Azra is showing her girlfriend her favorite Bollywood film, Aradhana, dancing along with it and being her wonderful, carefree self. But she’s soon interrupted by a phone call from her conservative mum, whose questions about her university course are just an excuse to direct the conversation toward religion, as she reminds her daughter that “Shakespeare won’t teach [her] how to be a good Muslim.” Soon, we learn that Mariam and her husband Hassan (Hamza Haq) are leaving for Pakistan to visit family. A few voicemails later, we get the news that Hassan has died of a heart attack.
And so, Azra and her brother Zahid (Ali A. Kazmi) catch the first flight to Pakistan — a world of cultural and religious traditions that feel alien to Azra, but also oddly familiar. It’s the place where she was born, and it’s also a world that functions by rules that make her even more aware of how different she is from everyone else, not only as someone with a western lifestyle, having lived in Canada for most of her life, but also as a queer woman.
But being in Karachi also has a magical effect on time, and we are suddenly transported back to 1969, when a young Mariam (also played by Amrit Kaur) is having a similar conflict with her own mother, Amira (Gul-e-Rana), who wants her to get married and settle in Pakistan. Though Mariam has just met a man and they both love one another, their intentions are to move to Canada right after the wedding. But Amira is so used to a certain way of doing things that she can’t understand her daughter’s choices, and, though our happy couple gets to follow their dream, Mariam’s relationship with her mum is just as strained as the one she’ll eventually have with her own daughter.
The decision to have Amrit Kaur play both Azra and Mariam immediately lets The Queen of My Dreams‘ message shine through, as we realize that mother and daughter both carry the weight of their choices — and of their identities — on their shoulders, as they try to stay true to who they are while also remembering their cultural baggage and making it their own. And just as soon as we’ve realized that, we’re taken back to 1989, when Azra and her family first moved to Nova Scotia. There, not only do Azra and Mariam have to get resourceful in order to be accepted by a mostly white, Christian town that doesn’t take their culture seriously, but Mariam also catches Azra kissing a girl and that brings another conflict into the picture.
Narratively speaking, The Queen of My Dreams is a little messy. It’s not surprising to learn that the movie was originally conceived as a short film, as it’s pretty easy to guess where it’s headed from the very start. Not only that, but the second half of the movie feels overlong and unfocused, and the ending isn’t as strong as it could have been, perhaps in Mirza’s attempt to tackle so many themes and issues at the same time, from cultural identity and religion to queerness, identity, and growing up.
But where The Queen of My Dreams really shines is in its heart and personality, as it’s so easy to get absorbed into what is essentially a Bollywood-inspired story about love — not just intended in a romantic way but also maternal love, and, above all, self-love — complete with enthralling musical numbers, gorgeous daydreams, and bright, colorful outfits. Amrit Kaur is the glue that holds the film together, embodying two characters who are different people but also, in a way, the same person, and getting us invested in both stories with her infectious personality and charm.
The Queen of My Dreams is ultimately about how the choices we make affect both ourselves and our children, but it’s also about the guilt we carry for making those choices, and the traditions we’ve outgrown but that still make us who we are. It was no easy to feat to make a film like The Queen of My Dreams, that tackles delicate, complex issues through three different time spans that eventually merge into one, but Fawzia Mirza’s choices pay off, as this stunning, charming gem will stay with you for a long time.
The Queen of My Dreams will be screened at the 2023 BFI London Film Festival on 7-8 October. Read our list of 25 movies to watch at the 2023 London Film Festival!