Polite Society (2023)
Director: Nida Manzoor
Screenwriter: Nida Manzoor
Starring: Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Nimra Bucha, Akshaye Khanna, Ella Bruccoleri, Seraphina Beh, Shona Babayemi
Presenting the premieres of Pearl, I Like Movies and two new documentaries from Mark Cousins, the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival was a huge a hit. Its closing film, Polite Society, ensured it went out with a bang.
Polite Society follows Ria (Priya Kansara), a British high schooler from a Pakistani family who dreams of becoming a stunt woman and for her sister Lena (Ritu Arya) to graduate art school and become a famous artist. However, when both of their futures come under threat due to an arranged marriage, Ria must save her sister from (almost) certain doom.
Nida Manzoor, both the writer and the director, formally introduces us to the fantastically stylish (and equally over the top) world that she has created via a good old fashioned schoolyard brawl between Ria and her dreaded arch nemesis, school bully Kovacks (Shona Babayemi). The fight is presented like a series of comic book panels mixed in with Wire-Fu and ‘Street Fighter’, creating a sensational action scene that is as exhilarating as it is funny and perfectly sets us up for the ride we are about to be taken on.
Of course, Manzoor’s work isn’t only fight scenes, but it cannot be overstated how perfect the placement of each action sequence is throughout Polite Society. The writer-director clearly has a deep understanding of her story and her world, and the way in which she builds upon each action sequence (constantly allowing the stakes to grow higher and higher) is simply excellent.
That is not to say that the moments between these fight scenes are any less captivating. Far from it. The screenplay is filled to the brim with wonderfully colourful characters who not only add to our enjoyment of the film but further the story and the emotion of the movie too. By far the best examples of this are Ria’s two best friends, Alba (Ella Bruccoleri) and Clara (Seraphina Beh), whose banter and antics together (or as a trio with Ria) are reminiscent of post-2000s teen coming-of-age favourites such as Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. However, none are greater than Nimra Bucha as Raheela, the over-protective mother of Lena’s soon to be husband, who plays her role to the standard of a classic Bond villain; perfectly over the top and campy yet intimidating all at the same time.
The story itself may be somewhat standard so far as coming-of-age movies go, but it is the unique way in which it is presented that makes Polite Society as terrific as it is. Can you tell how the film will wrap up? Probably. But Manzoor creates stakes that feel genuine, and moulds fresh characters whom you care about to the extent that they overtake your better judgement.
Furthermore, the performances of Polite Society truly capture your heart. Priya Kansara steals the show in her lead performance, crafting a character that feels real in a picture that is presented as anything but. Not only does she look natural in every single thing that she does, but she brings so much heart to the role. Truly, a star has been born in Priya Kansara. Ritu Arya’s performance must also be applauded, bringing the true emotional weight of the story to her role, capturing the genuine anxieties of a woman in her 20s. Her chemistry with Kansara is a joy to watch, both performers capturing the type of relationship that could only exist between two siblings who have known each other their whole lives.
With Polite Society, Nida Manzoor proves herself as a director to keep an eye on with her feature directorial debut, creating a story that is wonderful to be a part of and a world that is a joy to watch. Filled to the brim with amazing performances, beautiful costumes and some of the most fun action sequences to come out of Britain in some time, you won’t want to miss it.
A few days ago at a local cinema a young man was strolling up and down the halls, looking at every poster and pointing out what little original cinema is out there these days. Well, if it’s something new you’re looking for, Polite Society is the film for you: a unique yet familiar picture that has all the makings of a smash hit.