Fawzia Mirza Visits the Past to Know the Present in ‘The Queen of My Dreams’ Playing at Toronto

Fawzia Mirza’s feature debut, “The Queen of My Dreams,” which premieres Sept. 8 at Toronto, isn’t just a love letter to Bollywood, it’s a love letter to mothers and daughters and intergenerational connections. “It’s an attempt to reflect on the compassion we have for the elders in our lives,” says Mirza.

Amrit Kaur (“The Sex Lives of College Girls”) plays Azra, a Muslim teen living in Toronto. When her father, Hassan, suddenly dies, Azra is forced into grieving as she returns to Pakistan. “Ms. Marvel’s” Nimra Bucha plays Miriam, in the coming-of-age film that crosses decades, generations, cultures and beliefs.

“The Queen of My Dreams” began over a decade ago as a short film in which Mirza starred and co-directed with Ryan Logan. “It really 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,” she says.

In the film, Mirza celebrates Bollywood, paying homage visually and through her storytelling.

Cinematographer Matt Irwin was a close collaborator. Their goal was to ensure the film was never bleak. “He created a LUT [lookup table] for the crew that was used across all the departments,” she says. From lighting to costume to production design, there is a fantastical vibrancy throughout. She adds, “There are not enough stories about queer and South Asian Muslims. There are just not enough stories of our vibrance, hope, possibility and potential.”

Azra’s relationship with her mother, Mariam, is strained, but Azra’s arrival forces Mariam to recall her own childhood and flash back to 1969 Pakistan. “It was the golden era, the romantic era, that remains a distant memory for many,” Mirza says. “The elders talk about it like it was a dream or a fantasy and a time that they love but can’t think about because it hurts and it’s gone.”

That “golden era” becomes the beating heart of the film as Mariam is told she must get married and live in Pakistan. But Hassan has just accepted a job in Canada. Mariam’s love for Bollywood and actress Sharmila Tagore roots the film in 1969. The title “The Queen of My Dreams” is inspired by Tagore’s hit “Aradhana,” which features the titular song, “Mere Sapnon Ki Rani” (“The Queen of My Dreams”) about a man finding the love of his life, the queen of his dreams.

Tagore’s presence in the film through the character’s love of “Aradhana” was important. “She was a touchstone for my mother and maybe for all of our mothers of what the perfect woman is. This idea of who our parents are supposed to be,” Mirza explains. “There’s something about looking to the past to understand who we are in the present.”

As a young woman, Mirza too had romanticized the song, hoping some man would come along and sing the song to her. But when the filmmaker came out as queer, things changed, and she reimagined the fantasy hoping a woman would sing it to her. But Mirza came to a realization, “Maybe I’m the queen of my own dreams, not anyone else’s.” And that was woven into her storytelling.

The flashbacks to both Mariam’s youth and relationship with her mother, as well as Azra’s younger days, growing up in 1989 Nova Scotia, Canada, and fitting in ultimately led to Azra feeling empathy towards her mother and the conflict between mother and daughter gives way to understanding, and a journey of realization and connection. Just like in the song. Azra needed to look to her mother’s past, and Mariam had to look to her past in order to realize where they were in life and understand their present-day relationships which in the end, help form stronger connections, especially between the estranged Mariam and Azra.

Says Mirza, “I wanted to leave the film with this possibility for what the future might hold and show that love, possibility and fantasy exist.”

Watch the trailer here.

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