Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) is destined to become a stuntwoman. Or so she would lead us to think. There is nothing that excites Ria more than martial arts training and recording stunt videos to be posted on her YouTube channel. Her most avid supporter, her sister Lena (Ritu Arya), records these videos. Don’t let on to the fact she enjoys helping her sister though – that wouldn’t be cool.
When their mother drags the family to an evening Eid soirée hosted by her friend Raheela (Nimra Bucha), Ria’s relationship with her sister is threatened when Lena takes a liking to Raheela’s son, Salim (Akshay Khanna). Raheela has been pushing for her son to find a wife, and Lena quickly becomes enamored with him and the two are engaged – to Ria’s horror – before we know it.
But Ria knows something is off. Not because her sister doesn’t deserve a happy marriage; Ria looks up to her and thinks the best of her. But partly because of her family’s social standing. Raheela’s family is abundantly wealthy, their home a mansion, while Ria is an aspiring stuntwoman and Lena is an art school dropout. Salim, on the other hand, is a brilliant geneticist. Ria is insistent that Lena has the talent to become a professional artist whereas their parents think it is time for Lena to move on. And so Ria faces an uphill battle convincing anyone that something is awry, but she knows, deep down, that she is right. Their parents, however, believe Ria is refusing to let go of the past and is in disarray with the thought of losing the closeness she shares with her sister. After all, who wouldn’t want their daughter to marry a charming, successful man?
Ria goes as far as orchestrating a plan to steal Salim’s laptop from the men’s changing room while he is at the gym, and Polite Society has its fun portraying Ria’s bizarre attempts at stopping the marriage as nothing more than antics. Ella Bruccoleri and Seraphina Beh round off the cast as supporting characters, Alba and Clara, Rhia’s friends and sidekicks, who find themselves at the center of Ria’s rebellious efforts, gleefully enabling Ria’s schemes.
Polite Society leans heavily into comedy and Kansara proves to be a natural at comedic acting. She’s at the center of numerous slapstick gags and also demonstrates talent in physical comedy through her body language and expressions of grimace, shock, and disbelief. But at its very core, Polite Society is a story about finding one’s place in the world, and the film doesn’t let us forget that. Though Lena has more or less given up on pursuing a career as a professional artist, Ria is adamant that Lena will be able to follow her dreams. There’s a lot at stake – if Lena, who Ria holds in such high esteem, cannot become an artist, then what chance does Ria have in becoming a stuntwoman? As a career path with relatively few opportunities, Ria is discouraged by her parents and teacher who thinks Ria stands a much better chance at becoming a doctor (and looks the part as a lanky Pakistani student, a fellow classmate reminds her). Polite Society itself even seems to think so at times, with numerous stylized fight scenes recalling Mortal Kombat that result in Ria getting painfully humiliated. But there’s a leaping, spinning kick that Ria has been working on that could make all the difference…
Both paying homage and poking fun at Pakistani culture, Polite Society toes the line quite nicely between director Nida Manzoor’s Pakistani and British roots. Pakistani audiences will find much to relate to in terms of the overbearing parents on screen while young British audiences will see something of themselves just trying to find their place in the world, a la Sing Street. In fact, what can be admired most about Polite Society is director’s Nida Manzoor’s approach to storytelling. Balancing comedy, action, and coming-of-age drama while telling a thematically rich story is not a small feat for a feature film debut. And neither is leading this film as a feature film debut for actress Priya Kansara. In all, Polite Society is a crowd pleaser with much to admire apart from, of course, polite society.
Sounds great – will look out for this one! Thank you!