Nida Manzoor’s Action-Packed ‘Polite Society’

Nida Manzoor, the creator of award-winning television series We Are Lady Parts, writes and directs her debut feature film, Polite Society. The film is about a British teenage girl who tries to use her martial arts skills to stop her older sister from marrying into the wrong family. Starring Priya Kansara as “Ria Khan,” a teenager who dreams of becoming a stuntwoman, and Ritu Arya as “Lena Khan,” Ria’s sister, this is an exciting action comedy that grapples with sisterhood, immigrant culture, and growing up. 

“Ria Khan” (Priya Kansara) is absolutely obsessed with martial arts. Her bedroom wall is plastered with her stuntwoman idol, she’s almost always wearing some form of sports gear with her hair tied up, and she spends every spare moment practicing her new move—the spin-kick. She also has a YouTube channel to document her progress as a future stuntwoman star, and ropes her art-school-dropout sister “Lena Khan” (Ritu Arya) into filming the videos with her.

But Lena is much more than a camerawoman to Ria. She’s also Ria’s biggest supporter, her fighting partner, and an inspiration. Ria firmly believes that her older sister is still en route to becoming a famous artist. Whether it’s fighting (quite literally) against stereotyping and bullying at Ria’s secondary school, or pushing back on the pressures from Pakistani-British immigrant parents, Ria knows that she can always come home to her sister who will have her back. Nothing can break the strong bond between the Khan sisters. Or so Ria believes until their mom, “Fatima” (Shobu Kapoor), receives an invite from “Raheela” (Nimra Bucha), an acquaintance who is hosting a big extravagant big party at her mansion.

Although the Khans are left feeling a bit out of place, this party is a big turning point because it’s where Lena meets “Salim” (Akshay Khanna)—a handsome, smart, and wealthy bachelor. As it turns out, Raheela organized this party for her son to meet more women and help him find a wife. The plan is going well and Salim is surrounded by women, hypnotizing them with stories of saving children through genetics. It’s all too much for Ria, who finds this entire setup nauseating. Yet, it isn’t long before she catches Salim and Lena hitting it off a little too well. The situation turns from nauseating to nightmarish. In no time at all, prince charming sweeps Lena off her feet and puts an engagement ring on her finger. Alarm bells are ringing in Ria’s head; her sister is getting tricked and it’s up to Ria to save her from the devilish Raheela and her son Salim.

As a directorial debut, this genre-hopping film is an impressive one to pull off.

As a directorial debut, this genre-hopping film is an impressive one to pull off. Nida Manzoor’s work has been influenced by her love of films by Jackie Chan, Edgar Wright, the Coen brothers, and Bollywood. Her mixture of influences has resulted in a film that includes elements from each.

What Nida Manzoor’s film really got right was the comedic timing of the dialogue. Whether it’s from an actor’s quick glance, an abrupt cut in the edit, or a sound effect that emphasizes a camera movement, the pacing of each scene is driven by equal amounts of humor and excitement. There’s a lot of British slang in the dialogue, and both the writing and the delivery make the film both fun and funny to watch.

Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya are very convincing as a pair of siblings. They fight (both verbally and physically), they mess around, and they cheer each other on. Priya brings a naiveté to her character, which is perfect for a teenager with a big dream. Ritu, on the other hand, gives off the feeling of having been beaten by the world. The disheartened gaze she gives her character, Lena, juxtaposes really well against the bright and hopeful eyes that Priya gives the younger sister, Ria.

Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri play Ria’s sidekicks “Clara” and “Alba,” and the dynamic between the three is an absolute delight to watch. Much of the humor in the film can be credited to the banter between them and their performances; they are simply hilarious. Another standout performance comes from Nimra Bucha, who embodies the role of the villain with style and grace, all the while making her character, Raheela, one that the audience fears more and more as the film progresses. The costume design by PC Williams is detailed and colorful, and brings another level of excitement to the characters and the film, especially during the wedding scene. 

The action sequences in the film are exaggerated and out-of-this-world, and slow motion is used to accentuate hits and kicks.

The action sequences in the film are exaggerated and out-of-this-world, and slow motion is used to accentuate hits and kicks. It’s all quite overly dramatic. Although there are some fighting sequences that felt like they were a bit clumsily executed, the film manages to maintain a consistent style throughout. It’s even more impressive after finding out that Priya Kansara did many of the stunts herself. 

However, Polite Society isn’t without its faults. Along with some of the clunkier action scenes that reminded me of CBBC (a British public children’s television channel owned by the BBC) teenage television shows, the bigger story of the film also requires a very open mind from the audience. Polite Society is separated into acts, and each act is wackier than the previous one. It starts off as a coming-of-age action comedy, but after the third act, the film steers more towards a science fantasy mixed with psychological twists. There were moments where although each individual scene was interesting to watch, the bigger story felt a little lost. 

Nevertheless, this is a film that I thoroughly enjoyed. Watching it made me laugh and reminisce about my own teenage years growing up in the UK. Nida Manzoor first wrote this script a decade ago. Her choice of centering the story on a strong South Asian girl who is a fighter and who dares to dream, has led to the creation of a lovable character who the audience will want to cheer on. Polite Society tries to break away from stereotypical genres by embracing its absurd premise and writing its own rules for the world it’s set in. As long as you go into the theater with an open mind, I think you’ll enjoy it just as much as I did.

© Katusha Jin (6/28/23) – Special for FF2 Media®


You can stream Polite Society with a Peacock subscription or purchase it on Amazon Prime.

Learn more about South Asian women artists on FF2:

Read about the three must-see films from the 2021 South Asian Film Festival.

Read about Mindy Kaling’s coming-of-age comedy series Never Have I Ever.

Read about Pakistani-American Director Minhal Baig and her film Hala.


Featured Photo: Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya in Polite Society.

Middle Photo: Poster for Polite Society.

Bottom Photo: Director Nida Manzoor on the set of Polite Society.

Photos by Parisa Taghizadeh. Photos and Poster owned by Focus Features – © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Tags: Bollywood, Ella Bruccoleri, katusha jin, Nida Manzoor, Nimra Bucha, PC Williams, Polite Society, Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Seraphina Beh, We Are Lady Parts

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Katusha Jin joined FF2 Media’s team in 2017 whilst she was still a film student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. In 2019 she was the recipient of SCMP’s journalism scholarship and studied under the mentorship of an Oscar award-winning documentary director in Hong Kong. She went on to receive her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Hong Kong where she graduated with distinction. Katusha has previously worked in the advertising industry, and when she is not writing for FF2 Media, she can be found working on films as a director, producer, and writer. As a trilingual filmmaker, her experiences have cultivated an interest in the intersection between cultural diversity and creativity, and she brings that to her work both as a creative and as a critic. She is also a voice-over hobbyist, a fitness enthusiast, a student of comedy, and is always on the lookout for musical and theatrical collaborations.
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