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One Layer Deeper: ‘Polite Society,’ A Fun Romp Infused With Pakistani Culture Plus Adorable Film Shorts

Scene from "Polite Society."

In this edition of One Layer Deeper, we review a movie about a Pakistani martial artist, along with a series of short films.  Let’s get right into it!

‘POLITE SOCIETY’

Seraphina Beh as Clara, Priya Kansara as Ria Khan, Shona Babayemi as Kovacs and Ella Bruccoleri as Alba in “Polite Society.” Photo courtesy of Parisa Taghizadeh.

“Polite Society” is a playful romp from writer/director Nida Manzoor, who previously directed two episodes of the new run of “Doctor Who.” The story follows Ria (Priya Kansara) and her sister Lena (Ritu Arya, last seen in “Umbrella Academy“) in England.

Ria is a bright high schooler determined to go viral for her martial arts and Lena is her sister still struggling to find herself after dropping out of art school.

When Lena suddenly is courted by the town’s most eligible bachelor, the rich and successful Salim (Akshay Khanna), Ria engages in a mission to save her sister from what she believes to be a terrible decision.

Ria enlists her two best friends and one frienemy and a battle between the motley crew and Salim’s mother, Raheela (Nimra Bucha) ensues.

The movie feels like a mix between “Kill Bill” and “Kick Ass.” It doesn’t seem to take itself seriously and the twist at the end adds to the ridiculousness of the storyline. The characters seem believable even in their unbelievable situations, and Manzoor has infused Pakistani culture throughout the film. In fact, it’s a great depiction of the immigrant story in England.

PAKISTANIS IN ENGLAND

Pakistani people are the second largest ethnic minority in the United Kingdom. The vast majority of the families originated from the Azad Kashmir and Punjab regions of Pakistan. The U.K. was a common destination for Pakistanis after World War II because of the British colonization of India.

The movie feels like a mix between ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Kick Ass.’

When Pakistan became independent, the country remained a member of the Commonwealth and a small group came over to work in steel mills and as doctors to work in the NHS.

Growing from an initial community of 10,000 in 1951, there are now 1.5 million Pakistani-British nationals, mostly in England, with London having the highest density.

THE IMMIGRANT PARENT

We have covered this trope in past editions of “One Layer Deeper”: the immigrant parent with very high standards for their children.

This is a theme that runs throughout this film. We see it in the conversation about Lena going to art school as opposed to going into medicine or law. She even verbalizes it when asked about what she does. Her response is “I disappoint my parents.”

We see this repeatedly in films about Chinese moms, or African parents or any culture that was formerly colonized. The descendants must prove that they are worthy, lest they bring shame to the family name.

In “Polite Society,” the director seems to poke fun at this idea, but the reason the wedding is a big deal is that it raises Lena’s profile, and therefore the family status. It causes them to cast a blind eye to the red flags. All except Ria.

Nimra Bucha stars as Raheela and Priya Kansara as Ria Khan in “Polite Society.” Photo courtesy of Parisa Taghizadeh.

CONVERSATIONS ABOUT WOMEN’S BODIES

During one scene, Raheela mentions Ria’s menstrual cycle in front of Salim, mortifying Ria. Raheela encourages her to be comfortable talking about her body and its biology (we later find out that Reheela and Salim are very interested in women’s biology!).

It’s a plot vehicle for the movie, but it’s a genuine issue for women around the world to discuss their bodies and what’s happening to them freely.

We see this repeatedly in films about Chinese moms, or African parents or any culture that was formerly colonized. The descendants must prove that they are worthy, lest they bring shame to the family name.

The conversation ranges from the economics of menstrual items to female circumcision in certain countries, which is still current practice. Manzoor seems to reiterate that when you demystify women’s health, you lessen the chances for atrocious medical practices.

Director Nida Manzoor and actor Ritu Arya on the set of the film “Polite Society.” Photo courtesy of Parisa Taghizadeh.

REAL-LIFE STUNTWOMAN

Eunice Huthart, the woman that Ria idolizes, is a real-life stuntwoman. A world-class level Judo fighter, she was a contestant on a show called “Gladiators” and was the only U.K. woman to go from contestant to gladiator, assuming the name Blaze.

Afterward, Huthart pursued a career as a stunt woman working on films such as “GoldenEye,” “Titanic” and “The Fifth Element.” She rose through the ranks and became the stunt coordinator for “Alice in Wonderland,” “V is for Vendetta,” and “The Rise of Skywalker.”

MORE TIDBITS IN CASE YOU MISSED THEM

  • Someone describes Lena as  “looking very pale and not in a good way,” which is a hint of colorism among formerly colonized nations. European pigmentation is considered to be more desirable, causing darker-skinned members of society to be shunned and discriminated against.
  • We see matchmaking referred to often in the movie and one could argue the twist in the end is the ultimate attempt at matchmaking. Arranged marriages are still very common in Asian and African countries.
  • The soiree at Raheela’s house is the celebration of Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims.
  • Salim is the ultimate mama’s boy, but we love this line: “Behind every successful man is a tired mother!”

We see matchmaking referred to often in the movie and one could argue the twist in the end is the ultimate attempt at matchmaking.

‘ONLY YOU’: A COLLECTION OF SHORTS

We love shorts at “One Layer Deeper.” An artist is given a restricted amount of time to express a complex idea and has to get in, make a point, and get out … fast. That’s why we adore “Only You: An Animated Shorts Collection.”

“Only You” offers a range of stories — from battling one’s demons to being the new neighbor, in around six minutes each. The series draws from the minds of young, diverse directors and the animation styles are as varied as the topic matters.

The most engaging aspect of the series is the brave way that the directors infuse their cultures and identities into the storylines. We have imagery from Asia, the Middle Easter, the LGBTQI community and inner city life. It’s a rich tapestry of stories and here are a few of our favorites:

The most engaging aspect of the series is the brave way that the directors infuse their cultures and identities into the storylines.

Best Energy

From director Chris Fequiere and writer Dara King, “Burning Rubber” is an authentic showcasing of handball in New York City, U.S.A. It totally captures the energy of the game and culture around the sport. The anime battle style is perfect for the fast-paced competition and we left wanting a glizzy dog, a NYC-style hot dog!!

Deepest Message

Leech” represents the toxic cultures of body imagery in social media as a vampire. It deftly portrays a young Arab woman struggling with her body and navigating the pressure to look a particular way. Along the way, she abandons plants, family, and favorite activities. Eventually, she finds her way back to center, but it’s definitely a cautionary tale. Brought to us by writer/director Aalaa Mohamed.

Favorite Animation Style

Writer/director Miriam Presas gives us “Aroon.” Her use of vivid colors and ode to stop-action animation using paper dolls are very creative. The battle tones are brilliant red. When the hero embraces his humanity, they cool to blue tones.

Funniest Story

Welcome to 8th Street” is hilarious. It follows a young couple moving into a town in New Jersey, U.S.A. from California. Between Jimmy selling steaks out of the back of his truck to the old ladies gambling with their medication to a wild turkey getting knocked out of the sky, the randomness of the block feels familiar and possibly a reason to flee … or a reason to embrace the quirkiness. We loved it. Kudos to writer/director Yoo Lee.

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