In Pakistan, the minimum age for a girl to get married is 16, and in rural areas, bride buying and selling still exists.
A study by the Demographic and Health Survey relating to the two-year period 2017-2018 observed that only 19% of married women had a job, and that only 3% (compared to 72% of men) owned a home.
In a sample of males between 15 and 49 years old, 41% believed that in various circumstances it was justifiable to beat his wife for punitive purposes. In the same age spectrum, 28% of women had experienced physical violence since the age of 15, and 6% had experienced sexual violence. Furthermore, 34% of married women had experiences of physical, sexual or emotional violence within the marriage.
In short, it is not difficult to imagine what fuels the fire of Polite Society , data in hand. Newcomer Nida Manzoor ‘s film takes place among wealthy Pakistanis in London, but the cultural substratum is not very different: various forms of coercion – perhaps more subtle – still exist between parents and daughters, or between husbands and wives. It is also this awareness that moves the actions of Ria ( Priya Kansara ), a teenager who dreams of becoming a stuntwoman like her idol Eunice Huthart . To this end, she trains hard in martial arts with the support of her older sister Lena ( Ritu Arya), who is having a hard time after dropping out of art school. When she gets acquainted with acclaimed geneticist Salim ( Akshay Khanna ), son of family friend Raheela ( Nimra Bucha ), Lei lena becomes fascinated by him and she becomes engaged to him. Everyone is happy, except Ria , who thinks her sister shouldn’t throw away her artistic dreams to get married. The girl is then determined to sabotage the wedding, and she begins to investigate Salim .
Nida Manzoor made herself known thanks to the series We Are Lady Parts , which she created, wrote and directed for Channel 4: it revolved around a punk band made up entirely of Muslim women, and it is clear that Polite Society is in continuity with that experience. Here too, in fact, Manzoor places Muslim girls in very different situations from those we usually see in more commercial cinema, demonstrating how the point of view changes when the BIPOC authors can tell their stories independently. Moreover, from We Are Lady Parts , the film inherits the punk soul that unites the two sisters, both in conflicts and in moments of solidarity: it is clearly seen when Ria andLena dance together, or fight over a difference of opinion about marriage. Yes, because Polite Society is also an action film, child of Manzoor ‘s love for Jackie Chan and the postmodern contaminations of Edgar Wright . Not surprisingly, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is the most obvious reference: the director builds a stylized and surreal world where everyone seems to know kung-fu, and the plot is divided into comic book chapters.
It is a great pastiche that combines different genres and registers, ranging from martial arts to teenage comedy, from costume satire to science fiction. Its limitation, however, is that it does not fully embrace any of these elements: in an attempt to balance them, Polite Society lines them up without conviction, alternating them instead of contaminating each other. Thus, the kung-fu matches between Ria and the other characters seem out of context, and the effect is not harmonious. There is no doubt, however, that Manzoorhave amusing intuitions, and build a story that is “ideologically” sensible in its absurdity. Perhaps such a work would not have been possible before the MeToo movement, not in such radical terms: the screenplay is in fact guided by the same essentialist feminism that characterizes much mainstream cinema , and which in this sense can sound a bit didactic and artificial ( certainly not in the positions, but in the way in which he expresses them).
In return, this allows Manzoor to give voice to an angry generation, tired of inequality and patriarchal oppression, who seek self-determination through their greatest passions. Ria speaks as a teenager, and as such she may sound naive, but rightly so: her fury in fact awakens Lena ‘s apathy , saving her from disillusionment and the downsizing of her ambitions. Polite Society is a cry for independence against arranged marriages, mammons hiding behind playboy masks, mothers who spoil their sons and the vision of women as self-propelled wombs. To rebel against all this, the girls know that the only way is to fight, literally. Martial arts become an instrument of liberation, useful to contradict that old image that wants them to be calm, submissive, fragile and courteous. Maybe it’s not a brand new idea, but it’s rarely applied to the Muslim context, and the added value lies right there. On the other hand, sisterhood also means fighting shoulder to shoulder against hordes of adversaries.