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'The Queen of My Dreams': Hamza Haq, Amrit Kaur lead Fawzia Mirza's Bollywood-inspired coming-of-age story

"The more we just be and are our authentic selves, that's when we're in our power," Mirza said

After screening to enthusiastic crowds at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Fawzia Mirza's movie The Queen of My Dreams, starring Hamza Haq and Amrit Kaur, is now in Canadian theatres.

The film, also written by Mirza, introduces us to queer grad student Azra (Kaur) who lives in Toronto in 1999, and doesn't particularly see eye-to-eye with her conservative Muslim mother, Mariam (Nimra Bucha).

But when Azra's father Hassan (Haq) dies unexpectedly, Azra travels to Pakistan for the burial and ends up learning about her mother's youth in Karachi, shown through a series of flashbacks in the movie, in a Bollywood-inspired coming-of-age journey.

This Bollywood fantasy also takes specific inspiration from the 1969 Sharmila Tagore film Aradhana, and the song "Mere Sapnon Ki Rani" (The Queen of My Dreams).

Fawzia Mirza and Andria Wilson-Mirza attend the celebration of the theatrical release of
TORONTO, ONTARIO - MARCH 21: (L-R) Fawzia Mirza and Andria Wilson-Mirza attend the celebration of the theatrical release of "The Queen Of My Dreams" at Scotiabank Theatre on March 21, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Robert Okine/Getty Images)

The Queen of My Dreams began as a one-person show Mirza developed in Chicago, "Me, My Mom & Sharmila," based on the filmmaker's personal life and experience with family. But the scope of The Queen of My Dreams is absolutely impressive, featuring multiple locations, filming in Pakistan, and really proving the universality of a story that showcases the specifics of someone's lived experience.

"I probably went through, honestly, like 20 different iterations of what this film could be before it became the script that it was before we shot it, the one we took into production," Mirza told Yahoo Canada. "At one point, I thought about the fact that this could very easily be a coming-of-age story told entirely in Sydney, Nova Scotia, the story of a 12-year-old girl's coming of age and her mom, and they're at odds, and that would have been great, and maybe a lot easier to make."

"But the thing I could not let go of, that I kept coming back to, was the '60s in Pakistan. And the thing that really inspired so much of this, from the beginning, was this obsession with these old songs and these old movies, and these actresses, and really that's a connection to my mother. ... Why was I watching those or listening to those? It was an older generation who was sharing it with me. So that became kind of a grounding point for me. ... I realized that I don't need to stick to the story of the play as much to tell a great story, and I don't need to stick to my experiences or my mother's experiences for this film to be what it wants to be. I leaned into fantasy and I leaned into collective history, and collective memory."

Amrit Kaur and Hamza Haq in The Queen of My Dreams
Amrit Kaur and Hamza Haq in The Queen of My Dreams

Amrit Kaur, Hamza Haq bring authenticity and specificity to their roles

Aside from the filmmaker's personal connection to the story, Kaur has also spoken about how being in this movie and playing Azra "forced" her to look at her own relationship with her parents and her sexuality, and the "love-hate relationship with where [she's] from."

"That is why she was the perfect person," Mirza said. "There was something, a spark in her, from the audition that was really palpable, and I think some of that was likely this deeply authentic connection that is not fabricated."

"I want people to feel, and I think the more we feel and the more we connect to our heart, the more we disconnect from the systems that kind of tell us to hide our truth, and suppress out truth. And the more we just be and are our authentic selves, that's when we're in our power and that's when we're all in our collective power as a humanity."

For Haq, he told Yahoo Canada last year, during TIFF in September, that he was particularly enthused about playing a character that is trying to be the best father and husband that he can.

In terms of developing this character for The Queen of My Dreams, Mirza highlighted that Haq brought a specificity to the character that was needed.

"We don't see on the page any sort of real direct conflict between the dad character and the protagonist, and that's intentional," Mirza explained. "It doesn't mean that there wasn't some, but that wasn't the story of this movie."

"My dad passed, that's a part of the film that's based on truth, and it wasn't like our relationship was 100 per cent great all the time, but when I think of him, ... you remember these moments of love and patience, and ... the best of the attributes that you remember them by. And I wanted the dad character to embody some of that and not for it to be, mom is bad, dad is good, but it just to be that they're different."

Amrit Kaur in The Queen of My Dreams
Amrit Kaur in The Queen of My Dreams

'Telling joyful stories is a place of power'

While The Queen of My Dreams deals with circumstances that are particularly emotional, this film has such a strong sense of joy and hope that's absolutely infectious. Mirza so beautifully is able to intertwine humour with feelings of grief and tension in a really nuanced and impactful story.

Part of that is also shown with the way the filmmaker depicted Azra's relationship with her mother, as her queer child.

"No one needs to remind us that it's not OK, every single day, you wake up and tune in to social media, into the news, you read about [tragedies and violence against LGBTQ+ people]," Mirza said. "You can see the trauma and if we are only focused on the trauma, whether it's in our daily lives or in our storytelling, how on earth are we going to get past it?"

"So for me, that's been my survival tool, and it went from being a survival tool of, can I reconcile my identities? Telling joyful stories then became a way of coming out and now telling joyful stories is a place of power, we need this because we have enough of everything else. I knew I needed to tell these stories because there is hope. There can be hope. Is it always 100 per cent, this is the recipe and this is how it's going to turn out? No, but we need to believe it in order for it to be."

The filmmaker also wonderfully integrates the song "Mere Sapnon Ki Rani" into the film as a storytelling element, and uses music as a way to tap into emotion and nostalgia in a brilliantly visceral way. You will absolutely be singing and dancing along to "Mere Sapnon Ki Rani" leaving the theatre, whether you've heard the song before or it's completely new to you.

"Music is poetry and I think it's one of the most relatable truths, universal truths there is," Mirza said. "We listen to a song and we cry, we laugh, we heal, we're angry, get over breakups, we get over losses, we celebrate wins."

"Some folks are hearing it for the first time, but those who have heard it before, they all are bringing their own experiences, their own families, their own memories, their own moments of joy and loss, while watching this film. So it adds an incredible layer. ... Even when I watch it, it takes me back to so many different parts of my life, including making this film. ... I feel so blessed that we got this song, this movie could not be what it is without that song."