The Queen Of My Dreams *****
Updated: Oct 6
Starring: Amrit Kaur, Nimra Bucha, Hamza Haq, Charlie Boyle
Director: Fawzia Mirza
It’s the 90s and Canadian-born Azra (Kaur) is a budding actress living with her girlfriend (Boyle). When her parents go back to visit family in their native Pakistan, Azra’s life is thrown into disarray when her father dies of a heart attack while he’s there. Travelling back for his funeral, Azra begins to learn stories about her mother, Mariam (Bucha), a woman she has always considered conservative, but whose youth was far from that.
A heart-warming story of the bond between a mother and daughter, the intergenerational dual-stranded narrative is beautifully woven together. As we learn more and more about Mariam, the cyclical nature of life is placed firmly in view: the rebelliousness of youth passed generation to generation. Azra’s sexuality might sit at the heart of her wilfulness, but Mariam’s decision to marry whom she wanted and then to move abroad was just as contentious in the 1970s.
Mother and daughter are inexorably linked from the opening scene by their love of Bollywood cinema, in which Azra performs along to her favourite romantic melodrama, a film that her mother introduced her to. The story of this film becomes interwoven with their own, with scenes and vignettes peppering the narrative, before reality bleeds into the world of the film.
This love letter to Bollywood is reflected in the movie’s aesthetic too. Bright, colourful and fizzing with energy, all the colours and sounds and smells of Pakistan are lovingly assembled on screen. Of course Azra has her issues culturally – she’s certainly hurt that, as a woman, she isn’t allowed to attend her father’s burial – but the Pakistan of this film is vibrant, vivid and full of life.
In an early scene, a woman on the plane explains that Pakistan used to be a much more liberal place but the government had tried to make people forget. The Pakistan of the flashbacks is exactly that; moderate, open, luscious. Laced with nostalgia, this period film succeeds adroitly in capturing the beating heart of Pakistani culture. And to show that through the eyes of a Queer woman; that’s a refreshingly tender tonic to the way the west has portrayed it since 2001.
The leads of both stories are utterly adorable, too. Mariam sarcastically performs traditional dances with full energy but a mocking face; Azra learns from her mother to pose for photos with a fake expression “like a brown horse”. These dynamic women are full of life and vigour, carving their own truths within a colourful but restricted environment. And their stories are utterly compelling.
Nothing short of a revitalising gasp of clean but perfumed air, this is an invigorating and uplifting double-slice of rich and gorgeous heritage. Filmic, delectable and rewarding, this is accomplished and accessibly adult filmmaking, telling a rich story through the eyes of a director who’s both worldly wise and scrumptiously innovative.
UK Release: Premieres 7th October 2023 at the BFI London Film Festival, released by LevelK