Polite Society


Cineworld, Edinburgh

Sixteen-year-old Ria (Priya Kansara) and her older sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), have always had big plans: Ria will be a stuntwoman, and Lena an artist. But, while Ria remains committed to a kickass future, Lena’s given up. She’s dropped out of art school, and spends her days lying listlessly in her room. Then, at an Eid ceremony, Lena meets Salim (Akshay Khanna) and she’s smitten. He’s rich, handsome, kind and devoted – what’s not to love? Before long, the couple are engaged.

Ria is distraught: Lena is her role model. If Lena’s dreams can be so easily derailed, what does that say about her own chances? What’s more, there’s something decidedly fishy about Salim. Surely sabotaging the wedding is the right thing to do…

Written and directed by Nida Manzoor, Polite Society is a chaotic delight. A mash-up of martial arts, romcom and coming-of-age genres, it’s engaging, cartoonish, funny and exciting. It’s also a warm-hearted and affectionate portrayal of the British-Pakistani community.

Everything here is dialled up to eleven. When Ria and Lena fight, they really fight: heads crack, blood pours, doors and mirrors break. But the extreme violence, bright colours and melodramatic storyline work well to symbolise the heightened emotions of adolescence, where everything feels like the end of the world.

It’s a densely-packed piece, with some more nuanced details too. I like the fact that we never discover whether Lena actually is ‘good enough’ at art: she clearly has some talent, but maybe she’s right to drop out of art school. Not everyone can realise their early promise; not everyone retains the same ambitions as they age. While Ria’s still in her Matilda-When-I-Grow-Up phase, Lena has moved on… I also like the depiction of the girls’ kind-hearted parents (Shobu Kapoor and Jeff Mirza), indulging their daughters’ aspirations, but much happier when Lena decides to get married. It feels believable. Raheela (Nimra Bucha) makes a wonderfully chilling villain, while Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri (as Ria’s schoolfriends, Clara and Alba) are charming as the comic relief.

Polite Society is a delicious modern fairy-tale: Prince Charming is put firmly in his place, and the damsel takes charge of her own destiny. We’re left believing that Ria really might actually leap and kick her way into her fantasy future.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield


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