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Sister’s got your back

Growing up, my feisty younger sister and I had a typical love-hate sibling relationship.  We would squabble tirelessly over glass marbles, sparkling bangles, dolls with disfigured faces, chocolates, pieces of lace, storybooks, you name it. But when either of us was in trouble, the other always came to the rescue in full force. So when I watched the trailer for Polite Society –  a 2023 British action comedy film written and directed by Nida Manzoor –  that showed two Pakistani British sisters engaged in fierce martial arts in festive lehengas, I had to watch it!

YouTube video

Ria Khan (Priya Kansara from Bridgerton) practices martial arts, and her aspiration is to become a stuntwoman. But when her sister Lena ( Ritu Arya  of The Humans and The Umbrella Academy) drops out of art school and gets engaged, Ria is piqued, then enraged to stumble upon a bizarre secret about the debonair dulha and dulhe ki ammi.

Ria tries to warn her parents and sister against the nuptials but they brush it off as Ria’s overactive imagination. So the wedding is on. Ria has an altercation with the groom’s mother Raheela (Nimra Bucha), who emits a Cruella de Vil vibe. She is very gothic and aspires to rule the world in her extreme mother-in-law iteration. 

British actor Akshay Khanna plays the dulha Dr. Salim, the classic mama’s boy who owes everything to his mother Raheela.  He is a geneticist and is implicitly entrenched in his mother’s evil saga. He makes some unpleasant remarks about women’s physiology that made me very uncomfortable.

Sister act with a twist

What I most enjoyed, however,  was the chemistry between the two sisters. It was interesting to see them really fight like tough guys on screen.

I have seen siblings and friends punching, ripping out hair, and clawing at each other, but watching the two as actual sparring partners was a treat. Ritu Arya as Lena Khan is the pretty older sister who wants to become an artist but falls for the “polite society” marriage trope, even though she is supportive of her younger sister’s stuntwoman dreams.

Even after Lena bashes the living daylights out of her younger sister,  Ria saves her from a disastrous marriage. She accomplishes this “wedding heist” with the help of her energetic/ but gawky cool friends who remind me of my girlfriends in school. 

Polite Society, Nida Manzoor’s first feature film, is a satire on breaking dated social norms designed to keep girls meek, subservient, and primed for marriage with the proverbial tall, dark, stranger. All is not blissful after a Bollywood-style wedding, because after the bidaai, the daughter-in-law has to go to her sasural where a tyrannical mom-in-law awaits!  Despite the fact that the film rides the done-to-death South Asian wedding trope, the story has an original twist. This is an unexpected South Asian story of sisters-in-arms. 

Priya Kansara is exceptional as Ria, and I expect to see more of her in the future. Certainly, Polite Society will be wonderful to watch with girlfriends so that we can all talk about our sisters behind their backs! 

This image shows the cast and crew members of the film, The Polite Society, posing together at a special London screening. (Image courtesy:
The Polite Society team at a special London screening. (Image courtesy:

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two...