‘The Queen of My Dreams’ Connects Generations With Tenderness and Vivid Colour: BFI Flare Review 

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The Queen of My Dreams (2023) © Peccadillo Pictures

Fawzia Mirza adapts her semi-autobiographical stage play into a colourful, life-affirming, queer coming-of-age drama in her debut feature. The Canadian-Pakistani film highlights both the distance of diasporic experience and the shared realities of every generation. 

★★★★

So often, the phrase ‘a love letter to immigrant parents’ is one of the first descriptors used when describing diasporic cinema. However, The Queen of My Dreams is less of a love letter and more of a conversation starter, an attempt at understanding and bridging the gap between two generations of women. It could even be read as a series of diary entries, each juxtaposed to highlight both the similarities and differences between generations. There is still so much love in it for parents and for the immigrant experience, but there is also pain here, a frustration at being misunderstood by the people who should know you best.

The Queen of My Dreams centres around Azra (Amrit Kaur), a young Canadian-Pakistani woman. She’s studying to become an actor, living with her girlfriend, and while she happily shows her girlfriend her favourite Bollywood film, it seems that this is her only connection to her culture. Early on we learn that she is close to her father Hassan (Hamza Haq) and avoids speaking to her mother Mariam (Nimra Bucha), with the implication being that her mother disapproves of her queerness.

Upon the sudden death of her father, Azra makes her way to Pakistan, where the Islamic customs of mourning seem foreign and unfair and her mother seems colder and more distant than ever. These events are cut with long flashback sequences across two different time periods: Mariam’s youth and romance in 1960s Pakistan, and Azra’s childhood as she comes to terms with her lesbian identity in late 1980s Nova Scotia. Through these three distinct sections, we discover more about these women, how and why they have become the adults they are, and that we’re never as different from our parents as we’d like to think. While this is an interesting structural choice, the time given to each of the three time periods isn’t necessarily divided to the best potential. Moving the focus from Mariam to Azra’s youth shifts the tone of the film quite drastically half way through, and disrupts audience engagement with the story

Amrit Kaur, fresh from her breakout role in Mindy Kaling’s The Sex Lives of College Girls, plays  dual roles as both Azra and the younger Mariam, showcasing her multifaceted talent. Her scenes as Azra have a vulnerability to them, the walls the character has built slowly broken down in a new country. As Mariam, there’s the playfulness of somebody embracing the new era into which they’ve been thrust. Tying both characters together is a frustration with the limitations imposed on them by their mothers and their cultural context.

The Queen of My Dreams (2023) © Peccadillo Pictures

Through the older versions of Mariam we watch the young, free woman become the person Azra knows as her mother. The Nova Scotia section acts as a bridge between the two, and while the changes in Mariam’s character still feel somewhat sudden, they are justifiably so.The love for her husband that we see portrayed in the earlier time period has become a palpable grief in the present day sequences. Mariam is a mother who we can love and relate to: we have seen her dance, and laugh, and watch movies, and fall in love; but in being so, the audience—like Azra—feels the cold sting of her rejection. 

Contrast is a key theme in the film, emphasised by the visual storytelling. The cold colour palette of Nova Scotia and the bright, vivid colours of Pakistan, highlight the differences in these two young women’s coming-of-age experiences. The choice to shoot on location adds to this; the whole film feels genuine and lived in.

Frequent scenes in which Azra or Mariam picture their life in their favourite Bollywood film (for which this film is named) are a perfect homage to Desi cinema, employing a common trope from these films but using it in a way that highlights the characters’ emotional journeys. The frequent use of montage-style, jump cut transitions between scenes is also well-used, highlighting the jarring nature of Azra’s trip.

The Queen of My Dreams (2023) © Peccadillo Pictures

Another theme crucial to the film is that of diasporic experience. Fascinatingly, the film treats life in 60s Pakistan as part of the Indian diaspora, as much as it treats life in 80s Canada as part of the Pakistani diaspora. It is unafraid to acknowledge the reality of the effects of the Partition during scenes set in Pakistan, and in doing so treats the country not as a homeland but rather somewhere that is still growing into a fully realised nation. This framing makes the similarities between Azra and Mariam much more dynamic and interesting, even if the distance between them is still keenly felt. 

Part of the reason that this distance remains felt, even by the end of the film, is because the film is uninterested in conclusions. These are just snapshots of the womens’ lives—there are no clear answers to reconciliation, but there is unity, even if just for a moment, in their shared grief. This slice-of-life naturalistic storytelling may frustrate some, but it’s emblematic of the whole film: a gentle, compassionate peek into generational differences, and the things that never change. 

The Verdict

Fawzia Mirza’s debut feature is an empathetic look at the lives of women in the Indian diaspora, and encourages viewers to bridge the distance between generations by recognising the common human experience that binds us. Strong central performances and location shooting make this an easy and enjoyable watch, even if the pacing can be off putting. This is one for the daughters, helping them to reflect on their own relationships with their mothers.

Words by Rehana Nurmahi


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