Polite Society: The Femme and the Furious

Sometimes, the wildest of mashups creates the best of surprises.

Written and directed by Nida Manzoor, Polite Society tells the story of Ria (Priya Kansara), a young woman who, with the help of her sister Lena (Rita Arya), yearns to unleash the fight within her as a stunt woman. However, Lena unexpectedly falls for a mysterious young man and looks towards marriage, Lena becomes incredibly suspicious. Enlisting the help of her friends, Rita leaps into action to rescue her sister by pulling off the wedding heist of the century.

With sparkle and sizzle, Polite Society is an energetic and enthusiastic ride from start to finish. With a spectacular mixture of Bollywood film and American heist film, Society is a delightfully entertaining mashup of styles. Society emphasizes cultural values and traditions but never loses sight of its youthful spirit. The soundtrack is enthusiastic, the editing is furious, and the fun is infectious. (In fact, one could even argue Society outdoes Marvel at their own game in moments.) Part coming-of-age drama and part kung fu movie, the performances and energy are so much fun that one can’t help but enjoy the ride. (In fact, there are even moments where Society has the liveliness of Soderberg’s Oceans franchise. Although this team of teenagers may not have the smoothness of Clooney and Co., they certainly have the charm and enthusiasm to draw audiences into the moment.) 

What’s more, the performances are absolutely delightful. Everyone here is up for the fun but the stand out performance lies at the feet of its lead. As the young and imaginative Ria, Kansara flies across the screen with boundless energy. Fueled by her characters dreams of becoming a stunt woman, Kansara commits to the action and throws herself into the role. 

Of course, one of the defining characteristics of Polite Society is its celebration of (and challenge) of cultural traditions. Faced with the pressure of becoming a doctor (both from inside and outside the home), Ria is determined to be a stunt woman. For Ria, her dreams matter, regardless of what others may say. She sees the value in her creativity and spirit. Despite the fact that her parents believe they’re being supportive, they continue to fall back on old, cultural paradigms and ideas. But Ria is not convinced that is the way things need to be. (“I am the fury”, she reminds us.) However, at the same time, Ria very much has a respect for her family’s culture and heritage. Although she yearns to chart her own path, she does not want to do so at the expense of her family’s values. She loves her mother and father and seeks to honour their traditions, even if she finds herself in opposition to them at times.

4167_D044_01025_R2 Priya Kansara stars as Ria Khan and Ritu Arya as her sister Lena in director Nida Manzoor’s POLITE SOCIETY, a Focus Features release. Credit: Saima Khalid / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC.

What’s more, Society is very much a film about sisterhood. As Ria attempts to rescue Lena from a perceived dead-end marriage, she fights both for her beloved sibling and her dreams. Just as she dreams of becoming a stunt woman, so too does she refuse to allow her sister to give up on her dreams of becoming an artist. Even though Lena has walked away from art school, Ria refuses to accept that this is the end of her sister’s dream. She is committed to her sister and will do whatever it takes to see her thrive. What’s more, the theme of sisterhood also extends to Ria’s running crew. Despite the fact that she takes them into the wildest of circumstances, Ria’s friends are right behind her, not always because they believe that she’s right but because they want to support her. This is a story where women fight for (and with) other women as they step up against a world of (perceived) masculine toxicity and cultural pressures. 

In the end, there’s no doubt that Polite Society is fuelled by fun and fury. Even in moments where the tone shifts, the film never loses focus, and absolutely spin kicks it out of the park by the end.

Polite Society is available in theatres on Friday, April 28th, 203.

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