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If you crossed Bend It Like Beckham with The Marvels and put an Everything Everywhere All at Once filter on the finished product (with maybe a dash of Jane Austen or Bridgerton for kicks), you might come up with something like Polite Society. But make no mistake: Nida Manzoor‘s energetic, gonzo action comedy about an aspiring young stuntwoman doing everything she can to prevent her older sister’s marriage is a true original.

British Pakistani teenager Ria (Priya Kansara) is highly skeptical when her sister Lena (Ritu Arya) — who’s taking an extended break from art school and drifting through her days — suddenly seems to fall head over heels for wealthy, handsome doctor Salim (Akshay Khanna). Ria doesn’t want Lena to give up her dreams for the kind of traditional relationship they’ve both long rolled their eyes at, so she enlists her school friends to help her find a way to scotch the rapidly approaching nuptials. Their plan involves heist-like logistics, elaborate disguises, and (naturally) well-choreographed fight moves.

Complicating matters further is Salim’s mother, the intimidating Raheela (Nimra Bucha), who seems to look down on her son’s fiancee’s family but is eager for the marriage to go ahead; the reason why ultimately sends the story in a very unexpected (but not unwelcome) direction. Basically, whatever you think you know about the plot, be ready to be very surprised. The whole thing is delivered in a heightened style that includes lots of references to classic kung fu pictures, strong (literally and figuratively) female characters, and a clear message about the importance of sisterhood.

Manzoor’s best-known work before Polite Society was the winning British comedy series We Are Lady Parts, which revolves around an all-Muslim female punk band. Both the show and the movie center on the tension that young women from traditional families face when they try to challenge cultural norms and expectations. And both prove that Manzoor has the kind of writing and directing skills that promise more exciting, empowering projects to come. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Pam Grady: Shepherd’s Bush teenager Ria (Priya Kansara) dreams of being a stuntwoman someday, even if she can’t quite nail the flying kick she practices incessantly. When her art-school dropout sister Lena (Ritu Arya) agrees to an arranged marriage with upper-crust doctor Salim (Akshay Khanna), Ria senses a disaster in the making. She is willing to do anything to stop the wedding – but at the same time, Salim’s imperious and vicious mother Raheela (Nimra Bucha) is just as dedicated to ensuring the nuptials go forward. British writer-director Nida Manzoor’s first feature is an exuberant romp, an arresting blend of action and romance with a bewitching dollop of Bollywood and a sprinkling of sci-fi. Also, while Ria may hold ambitions to become a stuntwoman, the actor inhabiting her, Kansara, emerges a full-blown star in her captivating big-screen debut.

Nell Minow: Polite Society is a dizzyingly delicious mash-up of Jane Austen (devoted sisters navigating intricate social hierarchies), high school (bullies and BFFs), and martial arts. It’s smart, funny, endearing, exciting, and utterly adorable.

Sherin Nicole For the girls who became women like me, Polite Society is a gift. In other hands, it might’ve been a coming-of-age drama but Nida Manzoor’s hands are ready for a fight. The writer/director cleverly blends a martial arts thriller with outrageous laughs and a touch of Jane Austen romance. Then she sets this lunacy loose on a pair of South Asian siblings. And it works. Ria (Priya Kansara) and Lena (Ritu Arya) are sisters finding their way in life. Ria wants to be a stunt woman, but no one believes it can happen. Lena wants to be a visual artist, but we suspect she doesn’t believe in herself. So, everything is totally normal. Until a sinister plot evolves that puts Lena on the marriage market in a very real (thump-those-tomatoes) kind of way. Polite Society is a joyous cross-genre blend, one that makes you wonder if the dangers are real or if Ria’s teenage emotions have gone wild. Either way, sisterhood will save the day. Probably…

Nikki Fowler: Polite Society, is bursting with culture, comedy, stunts, sisterhood and friendship in a eye popping cinematic joyride. With a premiere at Sundance, the directorial debut feature from British filmmaker Nida Manzoor will quickly become one of your favorite films this year. It’s quirky and real and is filled with some really big lessons on being true to yourself and not caving to societal pressures. Read full review.

Leslie Combemale Polite Society, which handily blends elements of caper, Bollywood musical, Hong Kong action, and coming-of-age genres, is first and foremost a feminist tale about finding acceptance and sisterhood, even when most of the world sees you as an outsider. Speaking of outsiders, specifically in the film world, there are women all up and down the line in this production, including Manzoor at the helm, two South Asian female performers as leads, and a female cinematographer, Ashley Connor, as DP, and guess what? The film kicks literal and cinematic ass. When the film ends, wrapped up in a tidy bow required in every genre culled to make up this mashup, the audience is left with a warm feeling of sisterhood and celebration. All I can think of is watching the movie again. Polite Society is a well-made yarn, and great, badass fun from the first moment to the last. Read full review.

Jennifer Merin Polite Society is an ambitious comedy actioner with sci fi, thriller elements galore and a decidedly eccentric female-centric storyline. Spoofing the tradition-guided status conscious community of Pakistanis residing in London, writer/director Nida Manzoor creates a bash-the-bitch scenario around the character of Ria (Priya Kansara), a young martial artist who is determined to save her older sister (Ritu Arya) from a marriage that looks like an ideal match to everyone but Ria. An ideal match? The fiance is a handsome doctor whose chic widowed mother is snobbish high society. They have a great house and lots of money. But it turns out that Ria’s instincts are absolutely right and the plot follows her as she goes on a sister-saving mission. This is a big production with lots of spectacular martial arts fight scenes, colorful costumes and lavish sets, and absurdly fanciful plot twists that are designed to entertain — and they do. But underneath all the sparkle and sport, there is some serious consideration of feminist issues about women pressing forward to fulfill their dreams and live life on their own terms.

Loren King This fresh big screen action comedy from writer-director Nida Manzoor shares some of the high energy and irreverence of We Are Lady Parts, the TV series she created about a punk band made up of Muslim women. Polite Society mashes up Bruce Lee and pop culture-drenched teen comedy, all set in a British South Asian community, and smashes stereotypes from the start. Its self-assured and acerbic teenage heroine is aspiring stuntwoman Ria Khan (Priya Kansara). She’s determined with the help of her BFFs Clara and Alba (Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri) to stop her older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) from abandoning art school in favor of a husband. The escalating hijinks, complete with title cards and slo-mo martial arts moves, are aimed at younger audiences but viewers of all ages will appreciate the film’s confidence and spirited originality.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Polite Society is a charming, energetic, and fun story about sisters, cultural expectations, and following your instincts even when everyone around you thinks you’re misguided. Writer-director Nida Manzoor’s tale follows British-Pakistani teen Ria Khan (Priya Kansara), who hopes to become a stuntwoman and delights in the fact that her older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) is an artist, even though that makes both Khan sisters outsiders in their family’s tight-knit and highly judgmental community. Like Everything Everywhere All At Once, the movie explores a plethora of substantive themes, particularly when it comes to family, wrapped up in other genre conventions that make it a treat to watch.

Liz Whittemore Changing familial dynamics, a suspect sibling, and tradition get the Street Fighter treatment in this funny and action-packed story of sisterly love in Nina Manzoor’s Polite Society. When aspiring stuntwoman Ria finds her older sister suddenly in an arranged marriage, her mission to stop the wedding takes audiences on a journey of secrets, scandal, and suspicion. This female lead cast is out of this world. Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri play Ria’s besties in cahoots. Their feisty go-getter attitudes to defend Ria make Polite Society exponentially funnier. Ritu Arya plays Lena with the same sass and nonchalant cool-girl energy as her role in The Umbrella Academy. Priya Kansara is Ria. Tenacity to spare, Kansara mesmerized audiences with her comic timing and sweet moves. What a star. Her chemistry with Arya begs for a sequel. Manzoor makes you laugh and lulls you into a sense of misguided sisterly comedy, and then Polite Society flips the script and genre halfway through the film. The weaponization of menstruation makes for killer comedy and becomes a reclamation of power. A glorious final 15 minutes of color and fight choreography, Polite Society is an endlessly fun and fearless feminist anthem.

Cate Marquis  There is little that is polite in Polite Society but there sure is a lot of fun, in writer/director Nida Manzoor’s tale o f two British Pakistani sisters in London. The younger sister, Ria (Priya Kansara), dreams of being a professional stunt woman and her older sister (Ritu Arya), an aspiring painter, helps out by filming her stunts for Ria’s blog. But older sis is not doing well in art school and is taking a break while she thinks things over. Their parents take the opportunity to arrange a marriage for their beautiful older daughter, to the handsome son of a wealthy woman who is considered their social superior in their stratified Muslim community. And he’s a doctor to boot! What’s not to like, right? Well, younger sis doesn’t like it, and sets out to find out why she feels there is something amiss with Mr. Perfect, even though everyone else, including her engaged older sister, thinks it’s an ideal match. Polite Society mixes humor, martial arts action, and a tight sisterly bond, with a little exploration of a woman’s right to self-determination, toxic patriarchy, and following one’s dreams. Plus Polite Society is just plain fun.


Title: Polite Society

Director: Nida Manzoor

Release Date: April 28, 2023

Running Time: 103 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Nida Manzoor

Distribution Company: Focus Features

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Jamie Broadnax, Leslie Combemale, Nikki Fowler, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore

Previous #MOTW Selections

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Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).