The actor talks working with Fawzia Mirza, telling intergenerational stories and using art to heal
BY NIC CROSARA, IMAGE COURTESY OF BFI
Queer director Fawzia Mirza’s feature directorial debut, The Queen Of My Dreams, has received rave reviews from its world premiere at TIFF and it saw its international premiere at this year’s BFI London Film Festival (4-15 October). The dramedy explores the life of a Pakistani-Canadian family and explores intergenerational stories and mother-daughter relationships.
DIVA readers fell in love with Amrit Kaur for her portrayal The Sex Lives Of College Girls’ Bela, and in The Queen Of My Dreams, you’ll fall even harder. Not only is this Amrit’s debut for a leading role in a feature film, but she also serves up a mesmerising dual performance. She plays Azra, a queer Muslim student who returns to Pakistan after the sudden death of her father, as well as a younger version of Azra’s mother, Mariam.
Here, Amrit talks to DIVA about working with Fawzia Mirza, telling intergenerational stories and using art to heal.
DIVA: Your performance in this film was phenomenal. What attracted you to auditioning for or accepting both of these roles?
Amrit: Well, a number of things. I had the opportunity to work with Hamza Haq. We work at a production company together and it’s been a dream to work with him. He was my first acting partner in my acting class. So now to do my first movie with him felt full circle. And then there are so many things about the script that I thought were important. The investigation of the mother-daughter relationship, looking at my sexuality, looking at my relationship with the motherland, and then the fact that the film was authentically shot in Karachi.
What was it like portraying two different characters in two different time periods and locations?
It was hard. There were times in the day, you know, when we go from one character to the next. And you just have to sort of switch, and I had techniques to do it.
For the character of Mariam I do animal work which is essentially finding an animal that brings you close to the body of that character, and so I work on Marwari horse. So 10 minutes before the switch, I would go back to doing the horse and the spine. And there were quick ways to get into Mariam. Then for Azra, I would do an embodiment of somebody who I felt had the body of Azra. So working on that.
It was very challenging learning a new language. I speak Punjabi as my mother tongue. And Urdu, I would say, is 40% different. So the musicality is different.
And there were things that I still haven’t looked at to the depth I would like to. Like the reality of the choices my own mother has made and putting that into Mariam, it’s very personal. And I had more resistance to Mariam than Azra in some ways, I would say. Because a lot of the work I do is very personal and breaking down the myths I have in my own family and vice versa, that will go into the character.
Like Azra, your family emigrated to Canada as well…
Yes, my parents. I was born here. I was born 14 days after my mother and father landed, I was premature. And so I did not treat my mother well in the belly.
But there are so many similarities. Growing up here, there’s a judgement I have of where I am from, the village. There are things I love. And there are judgments about the patriarchy and the repression of women there. And so I understand Azra going back to Pakistan, she’s only aware of the things that she doesn’t like. And then she goes there and there are also a bunch of things, numerous things that are beautiful, and she wasn’t aware of them because she hadn’t seen them. So that was personal.
And what do you hope that LGBTQIA South Asian people take away from watching this film?
What I loved about this film is that Azra’s sexuality just existed, often times, the story is cultivated around the struggle of discovering sexuality and the oppression of sexuality. And I think this will be a beautiful one of the few and hopefully soon one of the many where sexuality just exists, and LGBTQIA sexuality just exists.
I recently interviewed Fawzia Mirza. She was full of praise for you. What was it like working with her?
She’s someone who can command a set as a woman and not fight for her place to deserve that place as a director, which I often find a lot of female directors do, because there’s so many gatekeepers in this patriarchal society, that are men.
What’s it been like seeing audience reactions to The Queen Of My Dreams during film festival season?
I think the most fantastic thing was when I was sitting with the crew that had come from Pakistan and it’s such a huge monument for them to come to TIFF and get these opportunities to work and film internationally in a way they can’t, or are struggling to in their own countries. To see the looks of excitement and empowerment on their faces was probably the best part of TIFF.
What do you think is the core message of The Queen Of My Dreams?
I think the message was forgiveness in the intergenerational trauma.
Yeah. Very hard but yeah. You can strive.
Yes, just do that! And scene.
To be honest, the film was more effective than a lot of therapy sessions can be.
I think art is beautiful for that, film is beautiful for that. That’s our job. Sometimes actors, myself included, get so caught up in the superficiality, but my job is to use my art form – and I’ve spoken about this before – to heal myself and to help others heal in their pain. It’s so revolutionary for that. So many films have helped me understand myself better, accept myself, have empathy for myself and others and decrease my judgement.
DIVA magazine celebrates 29 years in print in 2023. If you like what we do, then get behind LGBTQIA media and keep us going for another generation. Your support is invaluable.