Spoiler alert: This is a review of the film ‘Polite Society’.
If you’ve ever witnessed your sister getting married, you’re probably familiar with the anxiety that comes with wanting to protect her from any potential harm caused by the groom or his family. I remember vividly standing by my sister’s side on her wedding day, scrutinising her every move, desperately searching for any signs of resistance against the chains of patriarchy. At that moment, I could feel the power in my bones to confront and dismantle the oppressive forces that might threaten to subdue her. I was unable to find any signs, but the question is, how far would you go to save your sister from the clutches of a potentially harmful wedding?
In Nida Manzoor’s hilariously action-packed film, ‘Polite Society‘, two sisters find themselves entangled in a web of a deceitful wedding and societal expectations, where women are only seen as fit for the role of childbearing. This unconventional comedy takes us on a thrilling journey as Ria Khan, portrayed by Priya Kansara, defies societal norms and challenges patriarchal traditions to rescue her sister Lena, played by Ritu Arya, from a wedding built on a foundation of lies.
‘Polite Society‘ transcends traditional genre boundaries, seamlessly blending elements of action, fantasy, horror, and science fiction into its narrative. The film catapults viewers into a whirlwind of jaw-dropping stunts and unexpected plot twists. Manzoor’s audacious vision infuses every frame with a unique energy, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats while simultaneously tickling their funny bones.
Beyond politeness: Unraveling the complexities of sisterhood in the Polite Society
Sisterhood, like any relationship, is not without its complications, and ‘Polite Society‘ challenges the idealised portrayals of sibling bonds. Manzoor portrays the various stages of sisterhood, delving into the complex dynamics that exist within South Asian households, and illustrating the journey of sisters.
Ria, a young and rebellious individual, aspires to become a professional stuntwoman. She displays unwavering dedication to this career path by regularly sending emails to her idol, Eunice Huthart, even when her messages receive no response. On the other hand, Lena is more reserved, composed, and uncertain about her own career plans, particularly after leaving art school and returning home to live with her family.
It is fairly common among siblings to oscillate between supportive and not-so-supportive phases. Lena illustrates this by frequently refusing to shoot Ria’s stunt videos for the latter’s blog with Ria having to force her to do so. Yet, when Lena finally lends her support, you can’t help but wish for a sibling like her, someone who lifts you every time you fall.
That love and care can also be messy and become evident when Ria constantly nudges Lena to stop dating a man when she sees her sister changing herself for the man (turning off her career as an artist, switching hoodies for cardigans, and chopping off her growing bangs). However, Lena refuses to see anything wrong with the small compromises she makes. So much so that the two burst into an actual physical fight, which, unlike other action-based dramas focused on the win of the protagonist, makes you want to root for both of them, hilariously laughing at the slow-motion effects that are added to give a dramatic effect.
In the end, they unite in another action sequence to confront the true antagonists of the film, defiantly punching out patriarchy while adorned in their stunning lehengas. What makes their triumph even more personal is the fact that Ria finally masters her stunt and puts it to use in real life, with her sister watching and cheering her on.
Ria Khan: The unconventional heroine rebelling through art and action
The film cleverly satirizes a society where women are reduced to mere vessels for childbearing, challenging the very notion that their r worth lies solely in their ability to procreate. Ria, along with the help of her two best friends, sets out on her daring mission to save her sister Lena from a wedding built upon a foundation of lies. She emerges as a formidable force against this oppressive system, defying both societal norms and the laws of physics as she embarks on an extraordinary journey.
While the film explores the challenges women face in a society that discourages artistic pursuits and unconventional careers such as being a stunt woman, it goes beyond the ordinary by not relying solely on giving voice to women as a measure of progressiveness. Ria Khan becomes the living embodiment of smashing the patriarchy, both figuratively and literally, employing her intelligence and physical prowess to liberate her sister from the clutches of a wedding founded on deceit.
In the first half, Ria Khan’s adolescent fantasies of becoming like her idolised hero (Eunice Huthart) may seem far-fetched, but she captures our support throughout her journey, with all her failures and triumphs, because deep down, we know she needs to succeed. One cannot help but draw parallels with the coming-of-age tale of Ms. Marvel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, another messy teenage character who dreams of being a friendly neighbourhood saviour, idolising Captain Marvel but is often restrained by her South Asian heritage.
While Kamala Khan (Ms Marvel) rocks the stage with her lively performance in Dil Bole Hadippa, Ria Khan takes the cake with her Kungfu-Panda-like dance moves to the rhythm of Maar Daala, signalling her rebellion from well within the confines of patriarchy.
Priya Kansara delivers a tour-de-force performance as Ria Khan, effortlessly capturing the character’s rebellious spirit and unwavering determination. In an interview with Vogue India, she mentioned that her character and acting were inspired by her own family. “I have two cousins that are literally like my siblings because we grew up in the same house in the UK. The relationship between Ria and Lena is similar to my relationships with them, and when I read the script, I immediately thought about them, right down to their mannerisms and nicknames… My character, Ria, is feisty and brave and gets away with a lot just like one of my sisters. This is what I channelled for the role.”
Polite society defies politeness
With a blend of humour, wit, and a dash of action, ‘Polite Society‘ offers a fresh perspective on sisterhood, empowering women to break free from the shackles of societal constraints. Through Ria Khan’s arduous journey, the film inspires viewers to challenge norms and fight for their dreams, showcasing the formidable power that sisterhood can wield.
Manzoor skillfully weaves together heart-pounding action sequences, thought-provoking social commentary, and moments of genuine emotion, creating a truly immersive cinematic experience.
In the hands of Nida Manzoor, ‘Polite Society‘ becomes more than just a film—it becomes a rallying cry for equality, a celebration of individuality, and a testament to the power of love and resilience. Prepare to be captivated, entertained, and inspired by this extraordinary cinematic gem that dares to shake the foundations of polite society.