Polite Society is a one-of-a-kind coming-of-age story with the drama of Pakistani serials, the flare of Bollywood, the action of Kill Bill, the style of Scott Pilgrim, and the social commentary of Get Out. Nida Manzoor (creator/writer/director of We Are Lady Parts) mashes up so many elements that it defies categories, to what can only be described as Desi-Surrealism.
In Polite Society, a simple story about sisterhood is turned upside down in what is revealed to be a story filled with elements of mystery, horror, and some badass martial arts.
[Warning: Spoilers and impressions of Polite Society below]
The story of two sisters
The film centers around Pakistani British Teenager Ria Khan (Priya Kansara from Bridgerton) who wants to be a stuntwoman, and her sister Lena who is an artist. When Lena (Ritu Arya from The Umbrella Academy) gives up her life as an artist to settle down and get married to Salim (Akshay Khanna), Ria decides to sabotage the relationship so her sister can keep pursuing art.
However, Ria in her meddling accidentally discovers a disturbing mystery. The mystery at the end serves as a social commentary on one of the biggest issues in the South Asian community. The way Get Out and Atlanta uses Afro-Surrealism to make commentary on race, this movie uses Desi-Surrealism to make social commentary on generational trauma and the patriarchy.
Direction by Nida Manzoor
Nida Manzoor has such a distinct style of directing. You can see many of the same elements in her show, We Are Lady Parts. Manzoor does a lot of fast cutaways which makes the pacing of this movie exhilarating. You’re never bored because the entire movie is coming at you at a speed that is automatic, supersonic, hypnotic, funky fresh as R&B star Ciara would say.
Manzoor always plays with music elements at times combining rock, punk, and Bollywood. Not only do we get to see fun scenes of sisters just dancing and having a fun time, but we also get an authentic Bollywood number. Yes, a real Bollywood number! I know some of you think you’ve seen a Bollywood number because you saw the end credits to Slumdog Millionaire or whatever that was in Marvel’s The Eternals, but that was not Bollywood dancing.
In Polite Society, Ria performs one of the most iconic Bollywood performances that would make Madhuri Dixit proud. But in true Manzoor fashion, this song serves as a double meaning and so does the dance performance. It’s a brilliant combination of mixing culture with plot.
The action in Polite Society
This movie is filled with action, in fact way more than any coming-of-age story ever before. They do not hold back with the violence, but if you are not familiar with this style of surrealism, the fighting can confuse you.
The fight choreography takes elements of Kill Bill and even Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The action is what really takes this movie to another level. It takes the movie from a low-scale family movie to an action-adventure fantasy. The martial arts moves are befitting a superhero movie.
But what makes the action in this movie different than any other movie, is not just that it’s Brown women doing all the action scenes but that it’s Brown women in Desi bridal clothing. Never in my life did I think I would see a woman do Khan-Fu in a lengha (Pakistani Bridal Skirt). The way the clothing just twirls as they fight is visually breathtaking.
Unlike Hollywood femme fatales that fight in tight-covered latex or short skirts, this movie’s
fighting scenes were made for the female gaze. The fact that Ria wants to grow up and be a stuntwoman, and a Brown stuntwoman at that, is very timely as there was a controversy with the Netflix series Shadow and Bone being called out for having a White stuntwoman in Brown-face. The world could use more Brown stuntwomen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a few Ria Khan’s sprouting up after watching this movie.
The introduction and use of Pakistani culture
Polite Society does a fantastic job of introducing culture without leaving people out of the joke. Most movies and TV shows that revolve around other cultures find themselves in two situations, they are either spoon-feeding you all the jokes, or they leave you out of it. While it’s fun for us to be on the inside of the joke, it can sometimes alienate a viewer who is not of the culture.
This movie does an excellent job of displaying all things Pakistani culture without having it be part of the plot or the jokes. All of the cultural elements are visual, which makes it easy for non-South Asians to enjoy while still filling the movie with cultural elements.
Polite Society is great, but not so “family friendly”
There was one thing I did not like about this movie and it is a minor thing. There are two scenes that I wish did not make the final cut. One scene was where you see nudity in a men’s locker room, you see a buttload of naked butts. The other scene had to do with an individual filling up condoms with Vaseline.
Now do not get me wrong, I love me some crude humor. I am a huge fan of Super Bad. However, this movie is so good, that I would have loved to take my parents or take my nieces. I don’t think that’s something I can do because of those two scenes, and they really added nothing to the story.
In addition, I believe that if it weren’t for these two scenes, the word of mouth for this movie could have spread even faster because people would be going to watch it as families. While I do recommend this movie to all my friends, I would not recommend taking your parents, aunts, uncles, and young kids. Which is sad because I think they would have really enjoyed this film.
Unfortunately, the movie really hurts itself here. Knowing that Pakistani culture is a bit more conservative, they must have known this could hurt box office sales. However, it’s a great movie. It’s one of the most entertaining movies of the year. A surprise hit. I am already looking for an excuse to watch it again.
My rating for this film:
★★★★ / ♥♥♥♥♥
You can catch Polite Society is in theaters now! Have you seen it yet? What did you think? Let us know on Twitter, other social media, or The Cosmic Circus Discord!
[Editor’s Note: This review of Polite Society was written by guest writer Neebz Khan. Khan is also known as podcast host @watchwithneebz of Salaam Nerds (on Youtube). (FMI see Salaam Nerds on Linktr.ee)]