As Priya Kansara's Ria Khan swings through the air defying all laws of gravity to deliver a turning kick right to her mortal enemy's face (schoolyard bully Kovacs), all I can feel in the moment is sheer euphoria. Bold title card fonts slam on the screen. Ria isn't quite the best martial artist... yet. But she gets up with bold gumption and sheer willpower after every hit.
Where do I begin? Nida Manzoor's ('Lady Parts') feature film debut 'Polite Society' is a whip-smart balance of comedy and action. At its core, it is a coming-of-age sisterhood story with such depth of honesty in Manzoor's script shining through. Year 11 British-Pakistani Ria Khan (Priya Kansara, Netflix's 'Bridgerton') is set on a hero's journey against the backdrop of her beloved sister Lena Khan (Ritu Arya, Netflix's 'The Umbrella Academy', forthcoming 'Barbie') getting married and moving away. With her constantly disapproved-of dream of being a stuntwoman and Lena's career as a successful artist at stake, Ria sets off on an easier-said-than-done heist to prevent Lena from marrying mummy's boy Salim Shan (Akshaye Khanna), whose alleged resume as a doctor who saves babies etc is at the least doubtful to Ria.
Kansara - a newcomer to the big screen - is enigmatic. Paired with Manzoor's direction, she carries the angst, passion and misdirected love a determined teenage girl has. She very realistically sends one-sided messages to a celebrity hero who inspires her (British stuntwoman Eunice Huthart) with the hopes Huthart replies one day, maybe for a coffee chat. You never know, okay?
She is only accompanied by the best; starting with Ritu Arya who plays her sister Lena. An art school dropout trying to find her way in life while balancing her relationships with her loved ones, she navigates tricky dining table conversations about her future and helps Ria film her self-taped stunt YouTube videos. I first got to know Arya through her show-stealing role of Lila Pitts in Netflix's 'The Umbrella Academy', and I am so happy to see her again kicking arse, this time on the big screen.
The two actresses who stood out to me (besides the two main sisters) were brilliant relative newcomers Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri, who deliver the most hilarious one-liners as Ria's school friends Clara and Alba. To round it up, the campy extreme red-flag-raising mother Salim is played by Nimra Bucha, who now for two projects in a row (also Disney+'s 'Ms Marvel') has been beefing with teenage girls with wild imaginations and the surname "Khan".
'Polite Society' is a mishmash of genres, turning numerous Asian and Western film tropes into a fun cinema experience. While the visuals, design and performances are excellent, the true standout of the film is Nida Manzoor's pen.
'Polite Society' is a mishmash of genres, turning numerous Asian and Western film tropes into a fun cinema experience. While the visuals, design and performances are excellent, the true standout of the film is Nida Manzoor's pen, which has won numerous awards, including a BAFTA. Her film is sewn together with honest and authentic experiences, from her real sisterly love that inspired Ria and Lena's relationship to the confusingly supportive yet unsupportive dining table conversations the characters face from parents about pursuing unconventional careers.
No matter how absurd the film gets as it kicks into its third act (a Desi wedding filled with fights, heist hijinks and chloroform), the real crux of the story is never lost, with Kansara's Ria being the hero to cheer for and the love between the sisters to root for. Contrary to belief, to have a fun time at the cinema doesn't always mean I have to see a bad film. I can still have a fun time and watch a great film - I just watched Nida Manzoor's 'Polite Society'.