Christopher Nolan and his crew discuss their collaboration on Oppenheimer.
Fawzia Mirza on The Queen of My Dreams and Finding Yourself Through Storytelling
September 22, 2023
Canadian filmmaker Fawzia Mirza’s feature directorial debut The Queen of My Dreams was well-received at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and rightfully so. It’s a vibrant homage to Bollywood and mothers with an exploration of identity. Mirza, who wrote and directed the film, brings a beautiful and poignant intergenerational story showcasing a fraught mother-daughter relationship.
Toronto actor Amrit Kaur, most known for her breakout role in the series The Sex Lives of College Girls, gives a brilliant turn as Azra. The young woman visits her parents’ homeland of Pakistan in 1999 to bury her father (played by Hamza Haq), who dies suddenly during a trip home.
Azra finds herself on a Bollywood-inspired journey from her mother’s youth in Karachi to her own coming-of-age in rural Canada. Kaur does double-duty playing Azra and the younger version of her mother in 1969.
Mirza’s film was also double-nominated at the Indie Screen Awards during the Festival. “I was so happy that not only were my established producers Jason Levangie and Marc Tetreault nominated in that category, but my wife [Andria Wilson Mirza], who’s also a producer on the film, was nominated in the emerging producer category,” says Mirza. “As a filmmaker, you’re just trying to make the movie, and to have that recognition helps to know that you’re doing something right.”
We spoke with Mirza at TIFF about the genesis of The Queen of My Dreams, the Bollywood influences and her journey in bringing queer, South Asian stories to screen.
You started The Queen of My Dreams with a short film of the same name and then made your feature debut. Can you talk about the transition?
The feature started as a spark of an idea over 12 years ago. I was actually making an art installation that a friend of mine helped turn into a short film, called The Queen of my Dreams. That was a very public conversation about a really private struggle about whether I could be queer and Muslim and love Bollywood romance and fantasy. One of the reasons that it took seven years from touring the play to world premiering the film is that I had never written a movie before. That was a journey of figuring out and deciding that I’m a real writer, figuring out how to write a feature, and figuring out whether who my collaborators were on it.
How did the story evolve or change?
The story changed and evolved because I have changed in the world. The film is a mother-daughter story, but the way I see myself and my mother now in 2023 is not the same way I saw myself or my mother in 2012, or in 2014, or in 2016, or even three years ago. All of that shapes the emotional journey.
I love the Bollywood-style fusion of the film with Sharmila Tagore being a heavy influence. Growing up, what was the big moment for you that you wanted to borrow from your own childhood and have reflected in the film today? In my family, it was and still is Shah Rukh Khan.
As a child of immigrant, Asian parents, living in Sydney, Nova Scotia, rural Canada, one of the ways my parents connected to culture, community, and country was movies. Hindi films and Bollywood films—that’s how they could feel like they were connecting to their homeland. You’re just watching what they’re watching. One of the things I loved to show in Queen of My Dreams was reimagining those fantasies. I have imagined [that] I could be the Shah Rukh Khan. I’ve always dreamed of recreating some of his iconic music videos from famous films like ‘Chammak Challo,’ but we can do that throughout cinema history, so how can we reimagine the stories we love with us at the centre? For me, that also involves a queer lens and who is the hero and who is the heroine? What role are you playing? There’s fluidity there, so I was really excited to share that screen.
It’s like you borrowed everything we love about South Asian cinema and then brought it to the screen – for example the lack of subtly with having the dead husband and son be played by the same actor. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] Yeah, we’re not subtle. That was very intentional.
I love the homage to Bollywood with the Canadian fusion. Was that always your vision for the film?
I love South Asian cinema and I think there was a time when maybe I wish I didn’t. You wished you weren’t desi, you wished ate different food, you wished your clothes were different. It was trying to have that proximity to whiteness. I’m embracing my love for South Asians – whether we call it Bollywood or something else, I think helped me embrace who I am. It’s why I love so hard. It’s why I’m a deeply romantic Pisces. If I were to embody a character in a movie, it would be Rajesh Khanna or Shah Rukh Khan. Just singing with their heart on their sleeve. [Laughs.]
Has telling a queer, South Asian story been difficult to finance as we don’t see these stories on screen?
As a queer, Muslim, South Asian person, the reason I got into writing in the first place was because I was auditioning for roles in Chicago, where I was living. There just wasn’t anything that represented me or one of my identities, much less all of my identities, and so [I got into writing so] I could see myself at the centre, so I can see other people like me at the centre of the story. That, for me, has been the mission from the beginning. It has never necessarily been the thing that was in the mainstream. But we have to embrace who we are. Just like trends come in and out of fashion, who we are sometimes does too. As culture begins to open up and embrace this multiplicity of identities, maybe it’s suddenly in fashion to tell this story.
Is that one of the reasons that led you to create your own production company?
My wife Andria Wilson Mirza and I really want to build together. There’s power in that union and, obviously, the collaboration. But we want to have a place where we can create and not always be reliant on someone else to do it for us. Obviously, we need help; obviously, we’re going to be reaching out to people [for] financing; obviously we will collaborate with other companies. But it’s really helpful to have your home and your home base as a place to begin and to say, “This is ours.”
The Queen of My Dreams premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and is coming soon to theatres.