Filmed in various locations across South-East London, Polite Society is an enjoyable film citing the importance of sisterhood and friendship.
Directed by British Pakistani screenwriter Nida Manzoor, known for comedy show We Are Lady Parts, which earned acclaim for its realistic depiction of British Muslim women, this is a film centring on both sisterhood and modern British Pakistani life in London. We are introduced to the Khan family, whose women all find themselves lacking in comparison to those around them. The matriarch Fatima is in a constant battle to impress her friendship group of fellow British-Pakistani women, despite them not being appreciative of her daughters’ life choices and having apparently perfect children themselves. Her oldest child Lena begins the film on a break from art school, seemingly lost in life and unkeen to be judged by her mother’s cohort of friends. In the scene where we are introduced to her, she unsuccessfully attempts to hide from them whist eating a cooked chicken off the bone, something that does not exactly improve her social standing in their estimations. Her younger sister, and protagonist of the film, Ria, is committed to becoming a stuntwoman, and is in the process of begging her idol Eunice Huthart (playing herself) to let her complete her compulsory work experience placement with her, instead of as a dreaded pharmacist’s assistant. Despite Huthart’s silence, Ria continues to train and post videos on her YouTube channel, aided by her sister.
Seeing Lena and herself as an unstoppable and inseparable duo, she is shocked that, at an Eid Soirée, Lena starts happily talking to the community’s heartthrob Salim. As their relationship progresses, with Ria feeling like Salim is dragging her sister away, she resorts to more and more outlandish measures to try and prove that her sister is being led astray, with help from her school friends. However, it seems as if he is the perfect human: he is kind, loves his mother, is a geneticist working to save the lives of sick mothers and babies and lives in a mansion. Nevertheless, Ria stops at nothing whilst trusting her instincts that something is amiss, culminating with a wedding with a chain of events rarely seen before in British cinema.
As it is about an aspiring stuntwoman, it is fitting that there is an amazing array of stunts and fight scenes throughout the film. There are also many references to Lollywood and Bollywood cinema, with the exaggerated plots and beautiful colours and outfits, but still with the wryness that is a trademark of British cinema. There is no specific genre that this happily fits into, however, somewhere in this part comedy, part drama and part heist film, there is something for everyone.
Polite Society is showing at Plymouth Arts Cinema from Friday 12th – Thursday 18th May
Reviewed by Imogen Parkin
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