Films can deceive, concealing their identity as a kaleidoscope of reflections. Such is the case with Fawzia Mirza’s feature debut, The Queen of My Dreams (2023). In her director’s statement, she writes about drawing specific inspiration from personal experiences, namely her mother’s stories, which are intertwined with Pakistani history and collective memory.
The story begins on the cusp of the millennium in Toronto, where 22-year-old Azra (Amrit Kaur) lives with her girlfriend. Her open homosexual relationship and pursuit of a career in acting have put a strain on her relationship with her conservative mother, Mariam (Nimra Bucha). When her father has a fatal heart attack while visiting Pakistan, Azra travels to the country of her parents’ birth, where she uncovers her mother’s past, non-conformist identity.
Ahead of the first screening at the 67th BFI London Film Festival, where it was selected for the First Feature Competition, I spoke with Mirza and Bucha to discuss their generational dramedy.
If The Queen of My Dreams is Mirza’s personal kaleidoscope of reflections, it’s her intentional choice to embrace the personal. “It’s deeply personal because my lens is personal. It’s how I approach everything. I ask how I can connect emotionally with a person in a specific moment?” She adds, “The perspective I’d bring to someone else’s story will still be deeply personal. The perspective I’d bring to a big horror film that I might direct is still going to be personal because that’s our power. When we embrace this power, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Mirza describes the film in a matter-of-fact way, as a story set across two countries and about two romances – Mariam and Azra, and Mariam’s relationship 30 years earlier with the man she’d marry. Bucha’s description is a little more sentimental. “It’s a love story between a mother and a daughter, and how they must travel a long distance to find one another.” She continues, “When you’re young, you can’t imagine your parents were once young, and yet, they were.” She suggests that the adult identity clouds the child’s perspective to understand this truth. “The disconnect between young and old and the inability to connect has always fascinated me”, she says.
The Queen of My Dreams opens with Azra’s narration: “I used to worship my mother. I wanted to be like her. I thought she was perfect, […] I tried to be like my mother, but I wasn’t.” Her choice of words betrays theit strained relationship and suggests Azra feels an unresolved regret. Mirza says that the daughter not understanding her mother is “a tale as old as time”. This flailing connection is an essential antagonist in these types of stories, which sees a rebirth of the connection the characters once shared.
Presented with Karachi in 1969, we witness a young Mariam disinterested in conforming to conservative and traditional expectations. As Azra learns about her mother’s past, the disconnect between mother and daughter can be bridged. This theme of connection is close to Mirza’s heart. “I’m always seeking connection, and it’s something that’s happening in the film.” For Bucha, too, this is important. “The film might be about people who live far from you and speak a different language, but you can still connect with them. At its best, cinema creates connections.”
Watching the two different timelines, I reflect on how the Western perspective is oftentimes reluctant to identify socially progressive lived experiences in countries in Asia and the Middle East. But of course, every society has traditions and values that are challenged by the youth. It’s an inevitable generational conflict, and even if it’s repressed, it doesn’t extinguish the non-conformist desire that is so common to youth worldwide. What comes forth in The Queen of My Dreams is how Azra and her mother are not as different from each other as Azra thinks.
Mirza confirms that challenging the Western prejudicial perspective of foreign cultures is her intention with this film. “In the same way as Azra realises, she doesn’t know her mother’s whole story. I hope an audience has that same experience with the people, the cultures, and the places depicted in the film”, she says. “I like to lead with love but also from compassion, and that is for your mother and for those who came before you.”
What is not known is a central thematic concern of The Queen of My Dreams. However, we learn about how Mariam came to be this conservative wife and mother through a promise she made to Allah when her husband was near death years earlier. She promised to be faithful and dedicate herself to Allah. This decision forced her to forsake her non-conformist ways. It’s a hypothetical question that can’t be answered, but we can’t help but wonder if Mariam never felt pressured into this choice.
“We’re all on these different paths, and seeing why someone walks down one and not another may help us make sense of why they’re on our path. But the truth is, we also have to accept that they are on that path.” She continues, “The concept of free will versus choice or destiny is spiritual. Are our lives written in stone before we even live them?
“That’s a more existential conversation. But if we’re just bringing it down to the character of Mariam in The Queen of My Dreams, she chooses to submit to Allah because in that moment, she believed her prayer saved her husband’s life. That is relatable.”
The Queen of My Dreams screened in the First Feature Competition of the 67th BFI London Film Festival.