Queen of My Dreams (2023)

SXSW 2024 Film Festival Entry

Written by:
Andrew Osborne
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Though not technically a musical, writer/director Fawzia Mirza’s The Queen of My Dreams is peppered with engaging song and dance numbers (both in the real lives of its characters and in fantasy sequences modeled after those in the films of Sharmila Tagore, who serves as a common touchpoint for three generations of a globetrotting family over the course of decades and continents from ’60s and ’90s Pakistan to a small Nova Scotian village in the 1980s).

Yet Mirza’s feature length adaptation of her own similarly titled 2012 short (and a theatrical version called Me, My Mom, and Sharmila) likewise seems inspired by cinematic influences from ’90s New Queer Cinema to the arch visual transitions of Wes Anderson films like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.

The result is an occasionally uneven yet generally satisfying depiction of romance, mourning, and mother-daughter relationships against a vivid backdrop of timeless Muslim traditions and ever-shifting South Asian cultural dynamics.

Nimra Bucha anchors the film as Mariam, a freshly widowed religious conservative estranged from her Westernized daughter, Azra (The Sex Lives of College Girls‘ Amrit Kaur), an aspiring actress who lives in Toronto with an Anglo girlfriend.

Kaur also plays a younger, more progressive version of Mariam in the 1960s scenes, who clashes with her own mother about marrying and moving to Canada with a doctor named Hassan (played throughout by the charming Hamza Haq, while Bucha takes over the role of his wife in the Nova Scotia scenes as they raise an adolescent version of Azra played by Ayana Manji).

The inconsistent tag-team casting is occasionally distracting and some of the storylines in the film are likewise more convincing, heartfelt, and involving than others — for instance, the complexities of Mariam’s arc from lovestruck, open-hearted adolescence to conservative, guilt-ridden middle age versus the somewhat rushed depiction of her eventual rift with Azra.

Yet quibbles aside, Mirza and the cast deliver a compelling, fast-paced portrayal of Pakistani life too little seen on Western screens and an international family tale specific enough to be universally relatable.

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