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12:36Amrit Kaur lands her first leading film role in the queer, Bollywood-inspired The Queen of My Dreams

For Fawzia Mirza, making The Queen of My Dreams her feature film debut was cathartic.

“It saved my life,” said the writer-director.

The film, which began its life as an art installation and then a 2012 short film, is Mirza’s love letter to Bollywood romance and queerness. 

It tells the story of a mother, Mariam, played by Nimra Bucha, and her daughter, Azra, coming of age while exploring the two characters’ complicated relationships to their home countries and each other. Breakout Canadian actor Amrit Kaur plays both Azra and the younger Mariam in flashbacks to 1960s Pakistan.

A young woman dances alongside a video on a television.
Kaur says playing both Azra and younger Mariam required her to explore the relationship with her own mother. (Cineplex Pictures)

Mirza, who grew up watching Bollywood movies as a young, queer Muslim in Cape Breton, N.S., says she didn’t see herself in the film genre she loved.

“There wasn’t anyone to look to or turn to,” Mirza told CBC’s Eli Glasner. “I didn’t see anybody reflected in movies and on TV that had all of those pieces that I had in me.”

Initially, she didn’t see herself leading the film and wanted another “queer, Muslim, brown person to direct,” but struggled to find the right fit, she said. So at the encouragement of her colleagues, she took on the role herself.

“It was that group of people — those directors, that room, that moment — that helped me see myself,” Mirza said.

Now, with the film in theatres across Canada, she says creating it was “a dream come true.”

“It is the culmination of what feels like what I was meant to do,” said Mirza, who worked as a lawyer before jumping into film. 

‘Master class of life work’

Interpreting the largely autobiographical script challenged Kaur in new ways. 

Kaur had just five weeks between the end of filming for the Mindy Kaling-created series The Sex Lives of College Girls and when production for Mirza’s film began to understand two different perspectives: Azra and the character’s mother, Mariam.

At first, it was Azra’s vulnerability that scared Kaur. But it was Mariam’s “sophistication” that the Markham, Ont., actor struggled with.

“There was so much life work that I had to catch up on — really looking at my relationship with my mother, how I’ve treated her, how I’ve abused her, how I’ve hated her and loved her,” Kaur said in an interview with Day 6 guest host Stephanie Skenderis.

A woman looks at a man while they lie on the hood of a car.
Hamza Haq, right, plays Mariam’s husband, Hassan. (Cineplex Pictures)

“It felt like the script was asking me to do a master class of life work in what felt like five weeks.” 

Kaur says she had to look inward as she sought to embody the characters.

“I didn’t want to be a flawed person, which was what the script was asking me to reveal. And flawed in the way I treat my mother; flawed in my disdain for my homeland; flawed in the coming out journey,” she said.

Meanwhile, playing a young Pakistani woman while exploring the perspective of that woman’s mother allowed her to examine the ways people reflect their own parents. 

“Every person, even though we don’t want to be like our parents, don’t want to be like our mothers, we are,” Kaur said.

WATCH | Filmmaker Fawzia Mirza explains how growing up as a queer Muslim pushed her to carve her own path

Filmmaker Fawzia Mirza brings sexy ’60s Pakistan to the big screen

Filmmaker Fawzia Mirza talks to CBC’s Eli Glasner about the making of her debut feature film, The Queen of My Dreams, and explains how growing up as a queer Muslim in Cape Breton, N.S., pushed her to carve her own path.

Having launched her career on Kaling’s hit series, which explores sexuality and romance, Kaur hasn’t shied away from authentic representations of South Asians on screen. 

The Queen of My Dreams takes that further by centring Mirza’s own experiences as a queer Muslim woman.

“I remember walking out and, after every take, being like, ‘Have I told your story, Fawzia? Are you being seen?’ That was really important to me,” said Kaur.

Filming in Pakistan

Pakistan features prominently in the film. Shot on location, Mirza takes viewers back to Karachi in the 1960s.

“When I was thinking of this feature, ’60s Pakistan was something I’d never seen on screen before, and I really wanted to share [it],” she said.

“I also think ’60s Pakistan was so sexy.”

Shooting certain scenes proved challenging in modern-day Pakistan, she said. One scene, which features a bikini-clad Mariam on the beach, required the crew to put up barriers. 

Three people relax on the beach. In the middle, a young woman wearing a white bikini with pink polka dots looks up from a book.
The Queen of My Dreams was filmed on location in Pakistan, a move Kaur called ‘revolutionary.’ (Cineplex Pictures)

Kaur called filming in the Muslim country “revolutionary.”

“I’ve always wanted to make a movie in my mother’s land,” said Mirza. “I think some part of me wants it to be my land, and it is by virtue of our connectivity.”

“Being there on that soil was deeply cathartic and healing and beautiful.”

Since the film’s premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, it has gone on to play at Cannes and SXSW. 

Mirza says some of her family, including her mother, have yet to see the film. But it has already made ripples among South Asian audiences.

“This guy came up to me and was like, ‘You know, I’m not queer, but I’m really struggling with my parents right now and this really helped me,'” Mirza recalled.

“Coming back to the idea of art saving our lives, I think it can.”

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