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TIFF 2023 Movie Review: ‘The Queen of My Dreams’

Fawzia Mirza’s feature film ‘The Queen Of My Dreams’ is a lovely spin on the story of mothers and daughters. It takes a familiar concept and looks at it through time, space, history and memory, from Tupperware to Sharmila Tagore and everything in between.

Azra is a queer, secular aspiring actress in 1999 Toronto, at odds with her conservative, religious mother Mariam. After her father Hassan (Hamza Haq) – the glue between mother and daughter – suddenly passes away, Azra ends up flying back to her mother’s home in Karachi, Pakistan. As she grieves her father’s death, she also begins to reflect on the mother she has lost over the years as well.

Azra’s conflict is juxtaposed with flashbacks from Mariam’s life (some accurate, some imagined), which span from 1969 Karachi to Nova Scotia in 1989. These storylines do feel disjointed at times, since for the most part there aren’t any specific events tying them together. They are simply connected by people and come full circle at the end because of them. It is a jarring narrative choice, but one I can’t help empathize with. Our mothers don’t talk about their past lives, so these fragmented snippets are exactly how we piece together what their life might have been like before we existed.

The anchor in the narrative is actually ‘Aradhana’ (1969). Beyond just the glorious ‘Mere Sapnon Ki Rani’ dream sequences, it’s also the one bridge between Azra and the old Mariam which the daughter is still holding on to. It’s the film they both learnt how to love with, and may perhaps make them love each other again. Casting actors in intergenerational double roles is a cute nod as well.

The worldbuilding in ‘The Queen of my Dreams’ is what makes it stand out. Seeing the film’s version of 1969 Karachi is fascinating. It’s like archival Sind Club photos, home video tapes, and ancient rumours have come to life in a brighter, utopian Karachi. It feels like an old movie, especially against the aesthetic of ’99 Karachi, which is duller, dustier, sadder.

The film uses the rise and fall of KAI airlines (a movie equivalent of PIA) as a parallel to the journey of Karachi’s society over the years. It’s a fantastic idea, because not only does it get the point across so effectively, at certain points it made me think, “Did Fawzia Mirza hear my parents’ annual rant about how Jinnah International Airport used to be a world hub? Did my mother tell them about the PIA uniforms designed by Pierre Cardin?”

The cast is filled with legendary Pakistani faces like Sheema Kermani, Shameem Hilaly, Gul-e-Rana, Uzma Baig. And of course our star Nimra Bucha, who gives a heartbreaking performance of a character who could’ve become unlikable in the wrong hands.There is so much warmth and admiration for Karachi and for its women, despite the complexity of emotions shown towards them. Credit here goes to Amrit Kaur, who balances frustration with care and anger with love, remaining the emotional core of the story.

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Usually, coming-of-age desi films channel anger and resentment towards their traditional parents. But ‘The Queen of My Dreams’ shows empathy that is perhaps long overdue.

Rating: 3.5/5


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