Polite Society has been at the top of my Sundance 2023 list since the start. I am a big fan of writer-director Nida Manzoor (We Are Lady Parts) and knew whatever she put out next would be a smashing hit. And would you look at that, it fucking was. Her debut feature film follows a bond between two sisters – Ria (Priya Kansara), an aspiring stunt woman, and Lena (Ritu Arya), an art school dropout unsure of what to do next. The two are inseparable, understanding each other as no one else could. But when Lena starts dating rich hottie Salim (Akshay Khanna), their relationship makes her emerge from her depressive slump. It turns her into a whole different person, Ria knows something is wrong, and the more she looks into the Shah family, the more she’s sure of it.
The film masterfully blends action, comedy, martial arts, heist, and Bollywood to build a social horror story that stems from an unbreakable sisterly bond. A dramatic structure interlaces perfectly with the execution of its action as fight sequences serve to resolve conflict and up the stakes, showcasing Ria’s character and her imagination. Action tropes are used to create expectation as we’re all familiar with the language and then nicely flipped on their heads for a refresh that fits the story perfectly. The film has so much energy it is insane. Standout performances from Kansara and Arya very quickly hook you, and you remain interested as that bond is tested, at points even making you doubt if Ria is actually correct in her suspicions or if she’s just, as they put it, acting out because of the drastic change happening around her.
I want to give major kudos to the design, stunt, and choreography teams. The film looks impeccable. Every set choice further realizes a shared vision and adds to the character’s personalities, choices, and mental states. The stunts in the film are easily the main focus, much like its take on the British diaspora. The stunts combine Western and Indian fight styles to showcase Ria’s own personal style of fighting – what makes her unique. There’s also a scrumptious dance number at the end of the film that made me lose my mind, obviously shot overhead, that perfectly showcased just how far Ria is willing to go to keep her sister safe.
Nimra Bucha plays Salim’s mother, a confident, cunning matriarch who becomes Ria’s main antagonist. I’ve loved seeing her play villainous roles (check out Ms. Marvel if you haven’t). Her powerful personality comes out so nicely it’s actually very scary (and hot). I did find her villain reasoning to be underwhelming, the twist of the movie relies heavily on a setup that could’ve been way more ominous, but it still worked for me. The concept of “mommy’s boy” was the driving force behind it all, and as much as I love that we’re finally poking fun and talking about this shit, I wish they would’ve nailed this even harder, making it clear that this was a big part of their theme for the film.
Overall, I can’t wait to rewatch this film on the big screen and continue to support such incredible talent. You should not miss out on this film when it comes out, and once again, please check out We Are Lady Parts.
Polite Society made its North American premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2023. The film is set to be released in the United States on April 28, 2023.