“I’m not a stinking doctor…” That’s a line from Nida Manzoor’s debut feature, Polite Society, an exuberant quirky mashup of genres with an endearing theme of sisterhood at its core. It’s said by Ria Khan (Priya Kansara), as she fights her school bully (Shona Babayemi) after determining that being called a doctor is the worst insult possible.
Ria is a London highschooler fixated on becoming a world-renowned stunt woman, and nothing will stand in her way. When her older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) drops out of art school and becomes engaged to the charming and wealthy Salim (Akshay Khanna), she uses her wits and stunts to embark on ‘operation: stop the wedding’ with the help of her two best friends.
Polite Society is a fun mix of action comedy, martial arts, Bollywood, and social horror. But underneath the chaos that is this genre-blending, ambitious feature lies a story about the importance of sisterhood. Through newcomer and force of nature Khan and the gorgeous and fierce Arya, the two showcase an onscreen chemistry that celebrates having a supportive sister. And even though the script ventures off into the wild and unlikely, this important element grounds the film in a way that will appeal to audiences of all types.
A fun mix of genres.
Some of the best parts of Manzoor’s debut is her reliance on glaring genre tropes. For example, she often borrows from superhero films, in which Manzoor’s hero and villain are polar opposites of one another. Furthermore, she heavily leans into somewhat cartoonish personalities for these juxtaposed character types. Yet, these elements work to her advantage. Khan’s Ria is steadfast on doing the right thing and adamant that her sister’s in danger. Then, there is Salim’s mother, played by the incomparable Nimra Bucha. Bucha has perfected her villainous laugh unlike anyone I’ve seen in recent memory. And her antagonistic position (up against Ria’s) makes for an exhilarating and lighthearted watching experience that audiences will love.
For its 103-minute runtime, Polite Society is paced well. However, the script often suffers from repetitiveness within the characters’ stances and actions. Additionally, the film tends to come off a bit silly in moments where moderation would have been better. But thankfully, Manzoor’s exuberant direction uses urgency to her advantage. As a result, the commitment to its comedy and fast-paced action sequences lead to an experience that is simply kick-ass. Furthermore, the final 30 minutes will be some of the most fun viewers will have all year.
Polite Society is special.
Though Polite Society is an easy watch for viewers of all types, the representation presented in the film is worth celebrating. The film centers its British-Pakistani and Bollywood culture within multiple elements of the film. It is simply beautiful to see such representation in a fun, non-oppressive storyline that praises itself instead of finding things wrong within. This may seem like a simple element to Manzoor’s engaging film, but it’s a huge factor in why her debut is so special. I can’t wait for everyone to see this!
Check out the trailer for Polite Society below: