Polite Society

Polite Society is a unique new film you may never have heard of. A British film from first-time feature director Nida Manzoor, a film brimming with more ideas than most mainstream movies, that breaks the mould of stereotypes and manages to skillfully jump from one genre to another in the blink of an eye. You may never have heard of it because the marketing for this film has been poor and I sat in an empty cinema watching it. I hope word-of-mouth does the trick, for this film deserves your attention.

Ria Khan is a teenage girl who dreams of becoming a stuntperson. Her sister, Lena, has dropped out of art college because she believes she is no good. The pair are as close as can be until Lena is taken to the home of Raheela Shah, a powerful and foreboding mother to wealthy surgeon Salim, a young man looking for a wife. Lena, it turns out, is perfect, but her sister thinks there is something more sinister about this union and takes things into her own hands.

Manzoor’s film has so much to appreciate and enjoy. It’s hard to know where to start. Maybe the destruction of stereotypes. The main protagonists are Asian, yet this film isn’t relatable to just the Asian community. These are ordinary people living in Shepherd’s Bush whose beliefs and religions don’t seem to matter. You could put any family into the same situation, and it would work. Where the Asian aspect does play out is in the Eid celebrations, which for me has always been a mystery and the wedding details. Otherwise, this works for anyone.

It plays out like a teen comedy and a female-led tale of sisterly love. Ria, surrounded by her friends, Clara and Alba, are close with their personal handshakes and are bonded by being the outsiders in their school. It’s also a family tale of two sisters slowly being torn apart due to a man’s love, yet something else is happening. Ria wonders if this man could have any woman he wants, why her sister, who dresses in black, has no interest in anyone else and has dropped out from college, which most Asian families would regard as disgraceful.

Then there’s the martial arts element. The film has touches of Western and kung fu, from the use of chapters to Ria’s obsession with getting a round kick as produced by her favourite stuntwoman, Eunice Huthart. Ria attends karate classes and often fights with her sister but in an encouraging way. Manzoor has admitted that she was a fan of Jackie Chan movies growing up. You can see where she comes from with the often comic fight sequences, all brimming with energy and brilliantly captured by cinematographer Ashley Connor.

It’s also consistently funny, which is amazing for a film like this. The gags are often subtle and add another layer to this concoction. It also feels real, even if events start to go unrealistic the further the film goes on. The dialogue sounds fresh and modern, and the conversations are open and frank, including a scene involving a character struggling with her period. There’s even a nice nod to the torture scenes found in most action movies, where the lead is held by the villain, but here, instead of weapons of pain, it’s waxing your legs.

If the film does fail, it’s the bizarre reasonings behind the relationship, and the final act does become a little chaotic, as all the genres and ideas come crashing together. Having said that, it still raises enough smiles to forgive it of its shortcomings, and you do leave the cinema satisfied that you have a good time.

The cast is terrific, with Priya Kansara as Ria skillfully holding the whole film together. This plucky young performer gives it everything she has and carries the film well. Nimra Bucha is nicely evil as the mother from hell, while Ella Bruccoleri, one of Ria’s friends, Alba, has some of the best lines and delivers them with aplomb.

Polite Society is one of those films you might have to search for, but one thing is for sure, it’s a joyous, often bonkers experience that will have you smiling throughout. Try to experience it and tell everyone because this deserves a bigger audience. It’s a blast.

4 out of 5

Director: Nida Manzoor

Starring: Priya Kansara, Rita Arya, Nimra Bucha, Shobu Kapoor, Serphina Beh, Ella Bruccoleri, Akshay Khanna, Jeff Mirza

Written by: Nida Manzoor

Running Time: 103 mins

Cert: 12A

Release date: 28th April 2023


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.