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Film Reviews: The Queen of My Dreams & Shayda

Arts Review2024-3-22By: Marc Glassman


Women Abroad

The Queen of My Dreams & Shayda 

By Marc Glassman


The Queen of My Dreams

Fawzia Mirza, director & script

Starring: Amrit Kaur (Azra & young Mariam), Nimra Bucha (Mariam), Hamza Haq (Hassan), Ayana Manji (12-year-old Azra)



Noora Niasari, director & script

Starring: Zar Amir Ebrahimi (Shayda), Selina Zahednia (Mona), Osamah Sami (Hossein), Leah Purcell (Joyce), Mojean Aria (Farhad)


Two films opening this week could be curated into a film program about women from Muslim countries adjusting to life in the secular English-speaking world. The Queen of My Dreams and Shayda are directed and scripted by women making their feature film debuts and have received considerable acclaim while on the festival circuit. Not too surprisingly there are autobiographical elements in the two films, which deal with the clash of cultures inevitable in moving to societies, where women—and especially Muslims–are treated very differently than in their homelands. Family life plays a huge role in both films, with much of the drama being placed on how the relationship between mothers and daughters is played out. What’s fascinating is that the filmmakers take very different approaches to their works, with one being more of a romantic comedy with some serious components while the other is a far tougher nitty gritty drama.

The Queen of My Dreams by Canadian Fawzia Mirza, whose family roots are in Pakistan, is a delightful mishmash of styles and sensibilities that range from Bollywood musicals to low-key drama to romantic comedies. While nominally set in 1999 in Toronto, the narrative tracks back to a surprisingly cosmopolitan Karachi, Pakistan in 1969 and to a far more conservative Nova Scotia in the Eighties. Azra, an aspiring actress and lesbian, leaves Toronto for Pakistan when her mother Mariam calls with the sad news that her father has died after their arrival in to their old homeland. There, she encounters the traditional values of Muslim life which she is rejecting but unexpectedly, Azra also finds herself rather dreamily transported back to 1969 when her father, Hassan, was courting her mother. In a move that Bollywood would love, Azra in the past is playing her mother—a strange switch, which is never explored in the film. In many ways, Hassan and Mariam’s romance in a Karachi that is presented as far more relaxed than today is the high point of the film. It’s funny and stylish.

Mirza moves the narrative forward to the Eighties in Nova Scotia, where a 12-year-old Azra encounters the awkwardness and ignorance of Canadians learning to adjust to a family with a different religion and colour. Her mother starts moving from the joyous Karachi girl of the Sixties into a more traditional woman, who begins to make a living, hosting Tupperware parties in the neighbourhood. She begins to suspect her daughter is a lesbian and moves away from their former close relationship. 

Into this mix of techniques, Mirza adds clips from a beautiful 1969 Bollywood film, Aradhana, which starred Sharmila Tagore and is most famous for its song “Queen of My Dreams.” Azra associates it with her youthful mother and to a Pakistan that she could only dream of entering. In their mutual grief over Hassan’s death, the mother and daughter do finally achieve a form of closure. The Queen of My Dreams probably attempts to do too much stylistically but it is lively and features terrific performances by Amrit Kaur as Azra and the young Mariam, the veteran actress Nimra Bucha as the middle-aged Mariam, and Hamza Haq as Hassan.

Shayda by Australian-Iranian Noora Niasari is a brilliant but unsettling drama about women at risk in 1995 in Melbourne. The titular character, Shayda, is fleeing an abusive relationship with her husband Hossein and has taken their five-year old daughter Mona with her to a woman’s shelter. Despite Hossein having attacked Shayda, he is allowed weekly visitation rights with Mona, which adds considerable tension to the story. A truly affecting aspect of the film is the caring relationship Shayda has with her clearly traumatized daughter. Much of the film is set in a shelter and one gets the sense of other stories of abuse, thankfully taking the focus away from Iran. Niasari, who was a five-year-old in an Australian shelter with her mother, makes it clear that Iran has a wonderful, poetic culture although the character of Hossein is made a truly threatening figure. The film builds to a dramatic conclusion, which offers hope for both Shayda and Mona, giving some light for a story that has much darkness in it.

Shayda won the World Drama audience prize at Sundance and was the Australian entry into this year’s Oscars. A stunning debut, the film benefits from an exceptional performance by the Iranian actor Zar Amir Ebrahimi as Shayda. She won the Best Actress prize at Cannes in 2022 for Holy Spider and is just as affecting and persuasive in this film. Much of Shayda is set on Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which took place earlier this week. Why not celebrate by seeing this memorable film?


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