At the JIO-MAMI film festival 2017

Subverting the narrative

“I’m a lesbian, Muslim, Pakistani, actor, activist, writer, producer, lawyer & creature of passion,” reads her most-famous tweet. It’s got over 1,900 re-tweets and 4,000 likes, and features a picture of her – in the backdrop is a huge portrait of Martha Washington while a woman in a hijab, candidly sits on a chair below. That’s Fawzia Mirza.

Queer narrative

Mirza was in Mumbai recently with her new film, Signature Move, which she co-wrote, produced and acted in alongside Shabana Azmi. The film, a romantic comedy set in Chicago, tells the love story between two women, one who is a Pakistani and another a Mexican-American. Signature Move started its festival tour in March this year, at SXSW in Texas, where after its première, the Hollywood Reporter prophesied: “[The film] seems certain to reappear at gay and lesbian film festivals”. Predictably, the film went on to open Boston’s annual LGBT film festival, Wicked Queer, and closed London’s BFI Flare, before it opened at the Kashish - Mumbai Queer International Film Festival last week.

With her feature-length film, Mirza’s didn’t intend to tell a queer love story. “I set out to make a film that has stories [of] people that look like [me] and are experiencing things that either I had experienced or people in my world have experienced,” she says. We are talking late into the night, around midnight, right after the screening of her film at the city’s Liberty Cinema, where the audience for the festival was mostly LGBTQIH. “Other people will call it only a queer film,” she says. “This is the human nature of people. It’s not just about the movies – everyone wants to label you.” Mirza has an inkling of why that occurs. “Because when they label you, they think they [know better]. So they say, acchha acchha, you speak this language and you live in that neighbourhood, that means you are this. Then they think they know how to talk to you,” says Mirza.

Real resonance

Bearing these factors in mind, then, has Signature Move been received differently at queer film festivals compared to others? “There’s definitely been a relatability, whether it’s with the mother relationship, the confusion about love, or with the story where the woman didn’t need to be saved – well, a Muslim woman didn’t need to be saved. Changing that narrative is almost subversive,” she asserts. In Signature Move, Mirza plays Zaynab, a litigator (also her real-life ex-profession), who is learning Mexico’s lucha libre wrestling. And her conservative Pakistani mother, played by lovely Azmi, is unaware of her extra-curricular interests. Mirza draws a lot of characteristics and events in the film from her own life. To tell the world her story, she’s had to overcome a lot of personal insecurities. She laughs, “One step at a time, that’s how you overcome it.”

Funny business: Canadian-Pakistani Fawzia Mirza brought her film Signature Move to Mumbai. (Top) A still from her latest film.

Funny business: Canadian-Pakistani Fawzia Mirza brought her film Signature Move to Mumbai. (Top) A still from her latest film.  

 

Gender and identity

For Mirza, making films for festival circuits or creating hilarious videos online (one series sees her play Kam Kardashian, the celebrity’s long-lost lesbian sibling one is about a long lost lesbian sister of Kim Kardashian, and another is a mockumentary about being Donald Trump’s illegitimate Muslim daughter) is her way of dealing and surviving. “When I was grappling with being queer and what it means to be queer and desi, and whether I could still be desi and queer or do I have to sacrifice those identities to be a woman. That’s when I first started making my own art,” she says. “Starting with my three-minute short film called The Queen of My Dreams. That was one of the hardest things I ever made. The film ended up being a very public conversation of a very private issue. But for me, it was the only way I knew how to deal with the trauma. So that was step one,” she says.

The Queen of My Dreams is a queer re-imagination of 1969 Shakti Samanta classic Aradhana, in which Mirza assumes the role of her childhood idol Sharmila Tagore. It was Tagore’s films that formed Mirza’s early fascination with Indian films. And so she created another solo stage piece titled Me, My Mom and Sharmila where Mirza explores the intersecting space between family and identity through her love for the Bollywood actor. “That’s how, I guess, in the West, you stay connected to where you come from, your culture and your languages,” she concludes. “And especially when you don’t have that community around you – the movies and the dramas – that’s your community.”

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2020 5:51:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/subverting-the-narrative/article18700505.ece

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