Putting the Toronto International Film Festival in our rearview, Allison sat down to chat over Zoom with The Queen of My Dreams actress Amrit Kaur about her cultural and cinematic influences, the complicated nature of arranged marriage, and using film to inspire conversation.
In this unique film, when Azra’s mother, Mariam (Nimra Buch, Polite Society), discovers Azra about to lock lips with a female friend on her twelfth birthday, she slowly cuts her out of bonding activities. Mariam’s mother, Amira (Gul-e-Rana), gives up on her when she realizes she was manipulated into endorsing her daughter’s chosen love interest as an “arranged” marriage. Both experiences give credence to an outdated cultural perception of ethics that advances over time. Azra’s father, Hassan (Hamza Haq), suddenly passes away, and she is drawn to Pakistan where not much has changed since her mother’s time there. The Queen of My Dreams tells a familiar narrative through a uniquely Pakistani lens with fantastic acting and singularly creative filmmaking. Read on for our exclusive interview with Amrit Kaur.
Congratulations on your festival debut! What has it been like seeing the response to The Queen of My Dreams?
AMRIT KAUR: There was this moment I was sitting in the theater, and it actually hit me the day after. Much of the production team overlaps with another film called In Flames at TIFF, and there’s so many Pakistani people that are part of the the cast and the crew. It’s huge. It’s so astronomical. It’s so difficult to work, and to tell good storytelling, let alone have two films come out shot in Karachi.
Often a lot of films say they’re shot in native Karachi, but they’re actually shot somewhere else. This production team has fought against insurance odds, against all of the judgments in the world of the country to push back. There is this place that deserves authentic storytelling. Sitting in the theater and looking at all of my colleagues from Pakistan, it just warmed my heart, and made me feel like it’s so much bigger than just how I feel about the film. This is a piece of activism in a way.
In the scenes set in the 90s, Azra and her girlfriend wear butterfly clips, overalls, and chokers, and Mariam sifts through an overabundant Beanie Baby collection. Did any of these items come from your personal collection?
AMRIT: I didn’t bring any personal things onto that set, but that freaking set is so cool. I want my apartment to look like that. My apartment, dare I say, it not as colorful, but I love a colorful couch, and that was to die for, that couch. I remember those long landlines with the rings, and just stretching as far as you could. This used to be me. The cube TV—I was a chid then, flipping through the channels that existed. Going to the VCR store, and choosing what movie to watch on Friday night, which was our family thing. It was memorable in a way. The 90s/early 2000s were my childhood years—the time I was the most myself—so it was nice to be surrounded by that aesthetic.
You play both the daughter and the early mom characters, putting you at odds with yourself. How did playing these characters inform your perspective on the story or impose any new challenges as a performer?
AMRIT: I’ve spoken about this before, but I was a full-on blackout before I did. I had bombed acting class. I had gone into acting class for five weeks, and I had bombed. Right before shooting, I was given a character. I was so in a blackout. I did it for five weeks. I still don’t remember the name of the play I worked on, it’s ridiculous. My training—I train regularly, and the training requires us to go to the places in ourselves that we can reveal in our character.
There were things that I had sort of intellectually looked at, but not really looked at: sexuality, my relationship with my homeland, my relationship with my mother. The flaws in all of those things, and the judgments of all of those things. I was scared going in. It forced me to tell the truth about all of those things. I had to do, in many ways, a master class very quickly. Learning who I am, and my relationship to all of these things. When I have the opportunity to revisit all those concepts again, I’ll go even deeper. It was hard.
Fawzia’s filmography indicates a solid grasp on queer stories such as this one. What was it like working with her, and playing a queer character?
AMRIT: I used to make this joke. I would say to Fawzia, ‘I want to be you when I grow up.’ She’s so unashamed of her sexuality, and she’s so unashamed of who she is. That in itself is the biggest empowerment. She so proudly has a wife. She went to Pakistan with her wife. She meeting her family there like that. She was leading a set, which was very male-dominant in a very male-favoring society, and she held her own. All of that woman power was very empowering. I was so in awe of it. I got a nose ring, inspired by Fawzia’s nose ring, and I cut my hair. Definitely not as short as hers. Hey, in ten years, I’ll look more and more like her.
Bollywood has a strong significance to the story and overall style of The Queen Of My Dreams. What films did you feel most strongly inspired by, Bollywood or otherwise, going into these roles? Were you familiar with Aradhana or Sharmila Tagore before reading this film’s script?
AMRIT: I hadn’t watched Aradhna before. The song, midis Sapno Kidani, which is the theme song, is an iconic song. So many songs from that movie are iconic. When I auditioned for the part, the first thing I said to Fawzia was that Fire by Deepa Metha was the first movie that made me really want to become an actor. It was the first time I’d seen a South Asian that was queer. When I read this script, I had an opportunity to touch that part of me that was so inspired by Fire. That was a significant movie that affected this film.
I watched a lot of Wes Anderson films, for the comedy and the style and bigness of it. Otherwise for just shifts and giggles, I grew up watching just really cheesy Bollywood films. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was a big one. Dhaal, I loved Devdas. My God, there’s so many, but the cheesier the better.
Speaking of Bollywood, the silly tradition where actors may play both a woman’s son and their love interest is referred to early on in the film, and I’m assuming that was why Fawzia (foe-zee-uh) decided to have you play both Azra and young Mariam. Do you think it also served to show that the two women are not so different despite their battles?
AMRIT: Yeah, I think so. Because they’re not so different is why there’s so much resentment. Because they’re not so different, Azra is living her true life as an artist, being who she is. Mariam—who also was an artist and is very similar in that way, even though they might be opposite introvert/extrovert personalities—is resentful of her daughter. I think people don’t talk enough about mother jealousy. It’s a real thing.
Has anyone in your family in recent generations had to deal with arranged marriage? What are your personal thoughts on it? Would you be open to it, and do you think it has validity in certain situations?
AMRIT: My mother and father. So I was like, ‘tell me the truth. How did you guys behave in your first meeting?’ Apparently, my dad had a newspaper ad in The Tribune or something in India. My my mom wrote to him just a letter that she was interested. Apparently he had hundreds, is what he tells me. I don’t know if that’s true. Apparently, his brother was here for two weeks from Canada, and if he wanted to get married and have his brother attend, he had to choose a woman in two weeks. He says he picked a woman, picked a letter out of this bundle, then went to see my mother. Then they had a couple of meetings. That was very progressive for their time, that they met a couple of times. My mom had a discussion with him in a private room where her brother was guarding the door and making sure nothing happened. That was very progressive, and she was like, ‘tell me the truth.’
Would I do arranged marriage? That’s an interesting question. I think arranged marriage as we know it traditionally is quite classist. It works for many reasons, but it also doesn’t work. There is a mentality of having to make it work, or working on something which I admire. However, I do think matchmaking can evolve. There are so many matchmaking agencies now. New York is the hub for that. Matchmaking can work where you where you’re trying to find people based on the spirit. I would definitely not marry someone without seeing their face or or knowing about them. I’m not low hanging fruit. I’m an expensive queen, and I deserve a queen or a king as well.
How does the bilingual script make the performance or filmmaking process any more difficult? Did this bring about unique acting challenges?
AMRIT: Urdu was not my first language, or second language. I speak Punjabi, which is a sister language, but in many ways, it’s still very different. I had to learn a different accent, learn many new words. Then I was training, and had Urdu teacher for some time. Still, I would go on to set and there’s so many plates. Sometimes I’d lose the Urdu, or then if I lost the Urdu, then the acting was better. But if I was too focused on the acting, then I was letting go of the act. It’s interesting with the Urdu accent too, because they’re authentic people from Karachi.
The person who plays Mariam’s father has a very different accent to the person who plays my mother, to Nimra. The accent is so versatile, so it was it was quite challenging to decide on that. I I watched interviews of Nimra, and her voice before in the trailer, and so I studied that, though it wasn’t necessarily a mimicry. I wanted to capture the extroverted-ness in her voice. Speaking 2 languages English—I’m still working on a lot of things. I sometimes enunciate my voices, enunciate my words too much, just letting things flow out of my mouth. Urdu forces me to just let things flow out of my mouth; it’s such a romantic language.
We like to ask each of our guests this question: do you have any past or upcoming projects that you would like to plug?
AMRIT: I think I’m allowed to speak about Young Werther, the movie that’s coming out. It’s a Canadian-funded film, so I think we’re fine there. It’s based on Goethe’s Young Werther—it’s an iconic novel. I think that will be in the festival circuits as well next year.
Amrit Kaur has a bright future ahead, and Allison can’t wait for beloved show The Sex Life of College Girls to finally return when the strike comes to a close. The Queen of My Dreams screened at 2023’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Allison reviewed the film as well over at the link.