Polite Society – movie review

In a cinema environment overcrowded with remakes, reboots, sequels and superhero movies, it’s a pleasant surprise to come across something that’s as unique and genuinely entertaining and as hard to define as Polite Society. This energetic and colourful hybrid of Bollywood films, fantasy, high school comedy, rom-com, martial arts drama and action-thriller has been compared by some reviewers to the Oscar winning Everything Everywhere All At Once, but without the multiverse elements. And it’s all done with a typically droll British sense of humour.

The film centres around two Pakistani sisters being raised in their suburban London home by their conservative and traditional immigrant parents Fatima and Raff (Shobu Kapoor and Jeff Mirza respectively). Ria (played by relative newcomer Priya Kansara) is a martial arts enthusiast who is determined to become the best stunt woman in Britain, following in the footsteps of her hero Eunice Huthart. She regularly shoots videos which she places online to demonstrate her skills. But her parents are dismissive of her ambitions and don’t take her too seriously, instead insisting that she follow a more traditional path with her life. Her older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) is an aspiring artist who has come to the realisation that she lacks the talent to succeed and drops out of art school and spends most of her time in her room feeling depressed and miserable.

Lena begins a whirlwind romance with the handsome, rich doctor Salim (Ashkay Khanna), the scion of the wealthy and powerful Shah family. He is a geneticist who runs a medical clinic in Asia and seems to have devoted his life and career to saving the lives of babies. As Lena becomes engaged to Salim and prepares to move to Singapore, Ria grows suspicious of him and especially his manipulative mother Raheela (Nimra Bucha), whose insincere smile and cold eyes suggest ulterior motives behind the hurried engagement. With the help of her two best friends from school Clara (Seraphina Beh) and Alba (Ella Bruccoleri), Ria sets out to try and find some dirt on Salim and sabotage the upcoming nuptials.

Polite Society has been directed with assurance and confidence by Nida Manzoor, making her feature film directorial debut after several short films and helming episodes of TV series like Doctor Who. She was also the creator of the TV series We Are Lady Parts, and like that series Polite Society carries a strong feminist message as well. The film deals with themes of family, sisterhood, culture and tradition, and teenage angst. The film features some bright colourful costumes courtesy of PC Williams (We Are Lady Parts) and the production design from Simon Walker (RED 2). The film features some great fight choreography, particularly in the climactic showdown between Ria and Raheela. And Ashley Connor’s cinematography is rich and vibrant, and her camera is restless.

In her first feature film role, Kansara (from the TV series Bridgerton) brings plenty of energy and enthusiasm to her role and she acquits herself well with the physical demands. Bucha plays the malevolent matriarch with fiendish relish and chews the scenery at every opportunity. And Mirza (from Blinded By The Light) is good in a familiar role as Ria and Lena’s patient father.

Polite Society is at times quite silly, but it’s a crowd-pleasing romp.

Greg King

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