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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Polite Society Review: Martial Arts Maharanis Electrify With Entertaining Chops

Polite Society, which had its world premiere at Sundance Film Fest, is gearing up for a theatrical release by Universal Pictures and Focus Features. It promises to be an unconventional and fun watch, packed with family drama and emotions. It aims to showcase a story which emphasises women choosing their passion, instead following societal conventions.

Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) is a martial artist-in-training who believes she must save her older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) from her impending marriage. After enlisting the help of her friends, she tries to pull off the most ambitious of all wedding heists in the name of independence and sisterhood. But of course, not everything goes to plan.

India’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota wowed us a few years ago because it was a melting pot of several genres. This also seems to be inspired by Asian/martial arts backdrop films, Tarantino and references to classic Hindi songs like ‘Gulabi Aankhein’. This tactic is not only visually striking but a major nostalgic trip. To emphasise Ria’s dichotomy of dreams and stark reality, director Rida Manzoor captures Shepherd’s Bush and London city, with stunning slow-mo cinematography during the spellbinding action scenes.

Kansara (and Arya) execute their parts effectively. Especially when it comes to the stunts. These are exhibited with precision, finesse and flair. Their performances as close-knit siblings are natural. Both are competent in delivering emotional and humorous sequences. Accompanying them is a fantastic cast. It is refreshing to watch Shobu Kapoor as the compassionate yet ‘log kya kahenge’ mother. Her comedic timing is apt, as we already are familiar with it, but sentimental moments are powerful too. It would have been fascinating to know more about her background and whether she had to sacrifice dreams for ‘duty’.

Nimra Bucha is sheer dynamite on screen. Her Cruella DeVille-esque vibe is potent and her sheepish smile leaves a searing image in our minds. She dominates the screen with her acting excellence and solid presence. An absolute treat to watch her. Other impactful performances are also by Erica Bruccoleri and Seraphina Beh, who play Ria’s friends. Their disty and goofy comic timings are enjoyable to watch and highly entertaining. They are the souls of this movie.

The sharp editing with Indian-style fonts appearing on the screen enriches the technical appeal and enhances the experience. Manzoor’s writing and comedic moments or dialogues too are remarkably rib-tickling. It is tough to present such lines and scenes without it bordering on cringe but she pulls it off in a balanced yet sensitive manner.

Societal metaphors are subtly conveyed. For instance, the way Ria’s family frown at her when she screams the truth is quite thought-provoking on how women are easily dismissed when they try to expose misdoings. Furthermore, it is empowering how the movie is not just a slap on patriarchy, but also the women who support it. It is refreshing to see a film on the South-Asian culture portrayed in a way which is free from stereotypes.

Ria’s character particularly stands up not just for her dreams/ambitions but for other ladies too, even if it comes to her school enemies. Lena’s wedding also sheds light on many sham South-Asian marriages in today’s world too. Through comedy, intense subjects are addressed which makes a captivating watch. However, I feel the pace drops significantly during the second half. Also, given the take on mental health and related areas, I feel that a few intense or high-octane emotional scenes would have elevated the dramatic quotient.

Polite Society comes at an opportune time when British-Asian stories are surfacing on the commercial front. This movie does not only shatter regressive archetypes but champions cutting-edge cinema and a whacky theatre experience that other major pictures like Everything Everywhere All At Once have presented. Films like this are what our community deserves and should be encouraged!

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)

Polite Society plays in UK Cinemas from April 28th, 2023.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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