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“Polite Society”: A Tale of Two Sisters

PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 20: (L–R) Ritu Arya, Nida Manzoor, and Priya Kansara, and Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer John Nein attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “Polite Society” Premiere at The Ray Theatre on January 20, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

By Katie Small

With big dreams of becoming a stunt woman, karate kid Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) spends her days training for her future as a fighter. High school is a total drag, but Ria finds self-expression in the martial arts YouTube videos she makes with her sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), a recent college dropout and failed artist.

Premiering at midnight on January 20, Polite Society is a coming-of-age tale of two close but very different sisters. Ria and Lena live with their Pakistani parents in London, and face familial and cultural pressure to follow a parentally-approved future: in Ria’s case, becoming a doctor, and in Lena’s, marriage as a means of climbing the social ladder.

When older sister Lena falls in love with Salim, the son of a prominent wealthy family and a total mama’s boy, Ria is suspicious. But when the two quickly become engaged to marry, Ria fully freaks out. The shock of the unwelcome change inspires the ever-exuberant Ria to intervene in her sister’s budding romance.

With slapstick style and more than a few comical costumes and props, Ria enlists the help of her two best friends to complete a covert operation. She is bent on stopping the wedding at all costs, and her stunt woman skillset is repeatedly put to the test. 

Intertitles announce the film’s chapters, each of which contains at least one epic kung-fu style fight scene. Evocative sound effects accompany quirky one liners amid cheeky, rapid fire dialogue. As Ria advances in her quest, the stakes continually increase as the plot twists.

Writer-director Nida Manzoor’s debut feature is a unique mashup of genres (action comedy, heist, martial arts, Bollywood, social horror) that places sisterhood at the forefront. In the post-premiere Q&A, the actresses described how they bonded during pre-production, and how this helped them connect in front of the camera. 

“It was so natural — we instantly clicked, which is a rare thing, but in this case it was so important,” says Priya Kansara. “Because the crux of this story, really, is that it is a love story between two sisters.” 

Her co-star Ritu Arya agreed. “It was so easy working with Priya — from day one I just felt like she was my little sister. And I had her over for brunch, made her an omelet — that helped!” 

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