British teenager Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) has all the fury of an ambitious modern young woman.
She spends time with her friends, makes YouTube videos and doesn’t take life too seriously. Most of all, she aspires to be a stunt person, practising martial arts to be like her idol, Hollywood stuntwoman Eunice Huthart.
Her older sister, Lena (Rita Arya) has recently dropped out of art school and is horribly depressed. Ria attempts to lift her spirits but it seems Lena has given up on her dreams. Soon their mother Fatima (Shobu Kapoor) arranges a meet-up between Lena and the handsome young doctor, Salim (Akshay Khanna). While this union has been orchestrated by Salim’s mother, Raheela (Nimra Bucha), both Lena and Salim hit it off and are soon engaged.
Ria is outraged and wants nothing more than to sabotage the wedding. But when Raheela’s nefarious true motives reveal themselves, Ria and her friends must hatch a daring wedding heist. What follows is a flurry of feet and fists battle in the name of independence and sisterhood.
Polite Society is an interesting movie from Bafta TV Award winning writer and director Nida Manzoor. What starts off as a slice of life story with an eye on British-Pakistani culture, turns into something altogether different. Manzoor’s debut film quickly becomes a hyperactive mishmash of kung-fu and sci-fi excitement told through the lens of a feminist action comedy.
After watching the film’s trailer, I was interested to see how Polite Society would take on its arranged marriage subject matter. The film lets viewers get to know Ria and Lena in very human way that we can understand and relate to. But the action and laughs come fast with a schoolyard brawl playing out with all the over-the-top gravitas of a Tarantino film.
There is a bit of an awkward phase as Polite Society finds its footing with just how ridiculous Ria and Lena’s world is. For much of the runtime, the story remains fairly human while these fight scenes are the only moments of hyper-reality.
This, I think is my favourite part of the movie is that Ria really only wants what is best for her sister and I loved the extremes that she goes through to make that clear. Making her own film debut, Kansara bursts onto the scene with all the presence of a natural born leading lady. Ensuring that even whoever Ria is clumsily in the wrong, the character is still infectiously likeable for her plucky determination.
The film’s second half however throws a curve ball at the audience which while succeeding in shaking things up, has its own issues. From here, the lofty ideas such as arranged marriages can’t be explored quite as seriously, leaving little room for the principal characters to truly grow the story becomes full on farcical in its presentation.
As a fan of martial arts films, I was also a little disappointed in the shot-to-shot editing and choreography. I’ve seen great work with action scenes in other lower budgeted comedies, so with this film’s focus on stunts, wirework, and fight scenes, it was a bit of a letdown. Unfortunate, as the choreography and camera work during a later dance routine with Ria succeeds in all the ways these fights falter.
What makes Polite Society’s later chapters still such a joy are the lavish costumes on display during the wedding. But also, Nimra Bucha’s hysterically devilish performance as the diabolical mother-in-law from hell, chewing up the scenery with a maniacal grin the moment she’s finally able to let loose.
Although I do wish the line between comedy and heavy real-world concepts was bridged more successfully, Polite Society remains a fun story about endearing sisterhood and there’s plenty here to make for an entertaining night at the movies.