Fawzia Mirza’s “The Queen of My Dreams” Is a Love Letter to Bollywood, Queerness and the Mother/Daughter Relationship

The film follows Azra, a Pakistani Canadian lesbian who’s not interested in being her mother's perfect Muslim daughter. When Azra's father suddenly passes away, she must return to Pakistan and confront the complicated relationship she shares with her mother.

Mariam (Amrit Kaur) looks at Hassan (Hamza Haq) as they lay on top of a 1960s-style car
"The Queen of My Dreams" double-casts Amrit Kaur as both the young artist Azra in the 1990s and the younger version of Azra's mother, Mariam, in the 1960s.

Muslim filmmaker Fawzia Mirza just made her full-length directorial debut at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). “The Queen of My Dreams” (2023), a comedy-drama based on Mirza’s short of the same name (2012), premiered yesterday to immediate acclaim.

“The Queen of My Dreams” follows Azra (Amrit Kaur), a Pakistani Canadian woman who’s more interested in grad school than being her mother Mariam’s (Nimra Bucha) perfect Muslim daughter. Azra’s relationship with her parents has been strained since coming out as queer, but when her father (Hamza Haq) suddenly passes away, she must return to Pakistan and confront the complicated relationship she shares with her mother. From there, the film follows the now-conservative Mariam through a series of flashbacks of her own complex life in Karachi 30 years prior. Kaur also plays the younger version of her mother in a casting choice Mirza credits as “homage to South Asian films where double-casting is a common practice.”

Mirza grew up on South Asian films such as these, and indeed, has left little Bollywood-shaped fingerprints all over the film. Aside from double-casting, everything about “The Queen of My Dreams,” from its cinematography to its production design to its very story structure, feels like a love letter to Bollywood. Even the title comes from South Asian cinema — “The Queen of My Dreams” is also the name of a love song performed in the Hindi film “Aradhana” (1969), which follows a pregnant widow grappling with intense societal pressures and gendered expectations. Mirza has recounted the song’s personal importance when speaking to the Toronto Star, stating that to her, the song embodies self-love for anyone grappling with their place in a bicultural world.

The story, rife with themes of gendered expectation at the intersection of identities, is one that Mirza finds deeply personal. “The immigrant experience in the West has joy and struggle,” Mirza told the Toronto Star. “I think there’s something about being a person who has multiple identities that forces you to pull the things that make sense to you out of those cultures and communities to create your own space to thrive and survive. This has been my journey as a director: pulling what makes sense to me out of all of these worlds and creating something that makes sense to a larger community.”

Mirza came out as a queer Muslim in 2016, and describes herself as “a [queer] Muslim, Pakistani, actor, activist, writer, producer, lawyer and creature of passion.” Her creative projects all relate to the LGBTQ community, with a particular focus on her experience as a queer Muslim woman. Upon coming out, Mirza told The Guardian that her goal as a filmmaker is “to gain visibility for women and brown performers, and [to] find space for queer stories.” Mirza has previously explored these themes in shorts such as "The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night" (2021) and "Noor & Layla" (2021). She also wrote an episode of the CBS limited series “The Red Line” (2019), which marked the first instance of a queer Muslim romance on network television. 

In an interview with Variety, Mirza said that “The Queen of My Dreams” began as “a private conversation that I was having about my struggle with whether I could be queer and Muslim and still love Bollywood romance if I came out.” That conversation unfolds in “The Queen of My Dreams,” the trailer of which you can watch below.

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