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TIFF23: The Queen of My Dreams Is an Ode to Moms

Courtesy of TIFF

The Queen of My Dreams, an official selection of the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, is an ode to the Bollywood movies that director Fawzia Mirza was raised on. She describes the film as an extremely personal reflection on being a queer Pakistani woman who struggles to understand her faith. That journey clearly serves as the inspiration for Azra (Amrit Kaur). It’s Toronto in the ’90s, and Azra is living with her girlfriend as they finish their MFA acting program. Azra has dreamed of becoming a well-known actor ever since her mother, Mariam (Nimra Bucha), showed her a classic Bollywood movie when she was young. While Azra’s father (Hamza Haq) is supportive, her mother is not. She doesn’t see this as a viable career option for Azra, and their relationship is strained. After a family emergency, mother and daughter are forced to put their differences aside.

Told in present day and flashbacks, The Queen of My Dreams demonstrates the way history repeats itself through familial relationships. The film jumps back in time to Pakistan in the 1960s, when Mariam is a young woman. She dreams of leaving Pakistan and living a life away from her parents’ watch. Her young adult years were far more rebellious than Mariam would like to admit to Azra. In the same way their relationship is strained in the present day, Miriam-as-a-teen (Kaur again in a dual role) and her mother are also at odds with each other.

The Queen of My Dreams asks what the role of a child is. Do they exist to live their own lives or are their lives an extension of their parents? Different cultures have different interpretations of this question. Some believe that a child’s role is to serve their parents’ desires. Their life is not their own and their choices have to be in line with maintaining the overall family’s goals. Both Mariam and Azra actively rebel against that idea. They want to make their own decisions, regardless of what their tradition or culture dictates. This is their life, and they deserve to live it any way they choose. It’s interesting to see how youthful Mariam loses the ideals she once fought like hell for at the expense of her own mother/daughter relationship.

Miriam and Hassan lay on the roof of the car
Courtesy of TIFF

It’s so easy to see what a labor of love The Queen of My Dreams is for the entire team. The love, enthusiasm, and joy simply leap off the screen from the get-go. The film’s opening scene is Azra showing her girlfriend the Bollywood movie that inspired her to pursue an acting career. Instead of sitting on the couch and passively watching, Azra leaps up and performs the meet cute song. Full choreography included. Interspersed throughout the film are sequences of Bollywood dance numbers that are stand-ins for actual memories. Mariam and Hassan’s initial whirlwind romance is presented in a movie-magic way that shows the extent of the heightened emotions they feel for each other. The same goes for Azra-as-a-teen (Ayana Manji) in the suburbs of Canada discovering her queer identity.

At this point in the review, you may be thinking the film is covering a lot of ground in its 97-minute runtime. You’d be right, and that’s what ultimately holds The Queen of My Dreams back from being a truly great film. There’s simply too much to handle in such a short amount of time. The film is equally Mariam’s and Azra’s story, but Azra falls to the wayside. It’s not for lack of potential in her character. There are many interesting aspects working in her favor. Her strained relationship with her mother, her desire to respect and change tradition, and her queerness. These ideas are all at odds with each other, clashing against themselves in Azra’s coming-of-age journey. Had The Queen of My Dreams chosen to focus more heavily on Mariam or Azra, the film would have provided more of an emotional punch. Lady Bird is one of the best mother-daughter films in recent years. Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is the main character, but Greta Gerwig’s script provides enough of an emotional arc for Lady Bird’s mom (Laurie Metcalf) to allow them share the spotlight without overwhelming the audience with plot details.

The Queen of My Dreams is a passion project about a personal story that will likely remain forever relevant. As long as humanity exists, there will be mother/daughter relationships that will be fraught, co-dependent, loving, and every possible adjective in the human language. The Queen of My Dreams is a look at a familial relationship that’s honest, even when it’s ugly.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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