Polite Society Review (SPOILERS): Awesome Social Statement Plot, With Hilarious Execution

Woot, I get to spoil it! And the good news is, you can still enjoy the movie reading the spoilers. The trailer already gives you the whole plot because they know you will watch for the comedy and execution, not the predictable plot.

Whole Plot in Two Paragraphs:

Our heroine Priya Kansara is in her late teens, dreams of being a stunt woman, is so outspoken and confident her parents are a little afraid of her. Her big sister Ritu Arya just dropped out of art school and is having an emotional crisis, sleeping all day and hiding in a dark room and being angry. Their parents are super supportive and slightly social climbing, wanting their daughters to have better than they did. Their mother, Shobu Kapoor, takes them to a fancy party at her fancy friend’s (Nimra Bucha) house and the friend’s Perfect Son Akshay Khanna starts flirting with Ritu. He takes her out on a date and she returns infatuated. Within a month, she has gotten engaged and thrown away all her art work. Her parents think this is a good solution, she was lost and sad and now she is happy and settled. But Priya thinks this isn’t really her sister, it’s too fast, she’s forgetting everything about herself, it’s just running away from her problems. She brings her two best friends Ella Bruccoleri and Seraphina Beh into her plans to try to stop this, first by talking to her family and trying to convince them to delay, then by trying to find dirt on Akshay, and finally she decides to break into his house and plant evidence and her friends abandon her.

It seems that she is in the wrong, her sister is truly in love, this is a nice man with nothing wrong with him, and she should support the marriage. But when she goes back the next day to apologize, Nimra threatens her. She runs and hides in the house and discovers a secret lab with genetic experiments. Now sure something is wrong, she gets her friends to help her again and they plan to drug and kidnap Ritu from the wedding. Priya does a “Mard Dala” dance to distract everyone and turns into into a power move of threat and anger. The wedding turns into a huge fight after Nimra reveals her plan, to clone herself and have Ritu’s womb carry the clone to term, because her womb was the strongest and best according to their experiments. Ritu and Priya’s parents, and all the friends, work together to help them escape. The two sisters drive off together and finally honestly talk about how Ritu was running from herself, but Priya has to stop pushing her to figure things out. Happy ending of the two of them eating hamburgers in fancy wedding clothes.

The short version of this plot is just that a big sister is rushed into an arranged marriage, the little sister sees that something is wrong, and it turns out the big sister is being tricked into marriage just for her Womb. It’s a great over the top totally blunt metaphor for the reality of arranged marriages. The woman is truly just The Womb, the vessel for the perfect Grandchild of her husband’s parents. Final metaphor, the Savior and Solution is a bunch of fearless young women. Teen girls who have not been worn down by the whole push towards conformity and marriage, who can still see clearly and say “this is stupid and wrong”.

I kept thinking about DDLJ watching this. And I think that was a conscious influence, there’s even a scene of the two sisters dancing in the living room to pop music while their mother is describing them as good quite girls. In DDLJ, Kajol’s little sister knows this arranged marriage is wrong too, and is smart and uninterested in marriage and ambitious. It’s a second generation thing, the younger child is fully totally immersed in the culture of the society where she was raised, is fearless in speaking out against “tradition”. And the parents are more indulgent of it than they would be with the older child. Meanwhile the older child feels a pressure to confirm, to please the parents a little bit, needs the bravery of the younger child to help them break free.

I knew the plot from the trailer, but when the movie started and we first met Ritu I thought “there is no way they can make this work” and then they did! The script doesn’t start with “every woman would want an arranged marriage to a handsome man”, it starts with “what brings a woman to the point of accepting an arranged marriage”. Ritu is lost, left art school because she had a crisis of confidence, feels a failure. The idea of getting married and running away from everything seems like an escape. It’s a weak moment in life. This is different from why a man might have an arranged marriage. Akshay is already at the peak of his career, settled and successful, and wants to have a baby. He just needs a young lost woman who is ready to make a lifetime decision in one month.

Priya’s argument that Ritu is giving up everything about herself for this marriage, that Akshay just wants her for her womb, that is true even before the turn towards Supervillain! But it’s been normalized, Ritu herself refuses to consider the longterm consequences of this action. Everyone says it’s the perfect marriage to the perfect man and she will be happy forever, no one says “he is getting a decade younger wife with nothing to do but raise his kids, she is losing everything”.

The final touch to the whole Feminist story, is the Bad Feminist aspect of Nimra Bucha. Her argument for why she wants, no, DESERVES to be cloned is that she was forced into marriage and gave up everything to raise her son, she has the right to live her life over again with more choices. But, I think, we are supposed to see the flaw in this. First, she says she was married right after she “graduated”. So she was able to complete college, which is more than the option she is giving Ritu, snapping her up before she even finishes school. Second, she is powerful and rich and has no one controlling her now. Instead of whining about what she lost, why didn’t she start pursuing her dreams now? And third, what are those dreams? Ritu and Priya are clear on their ambitions for life. And they are actively pursuing them without letting anything stop them. Nimra seems to have decided she is the victim without even figuring out what she lost!

Yes, this is a patriarchal society. Yes, it is accepted for very very young woman to marry older men. But that is allowed to perpetuate if you keep trying to find the answer within the same broken system. Ultimately, it all comes back to Saas-Bahu. Nimra is going to find her power by abusing her daughter-in-law as she was abused. And that sucks. Just as much as the point Priya makes earlier that Ritu is “Jane Austening”, succeeding in life by marrying a rich successful man instead of following your own dreams. That’s no way to find power as a woman.

Which brings me to the most interesting part of this film to me, the total lack of romance. We get enough of Ritu and Akshay’s first date to see why she is charmed by him, but there is no attempt to try to sell us on some grand love story. When Priya’s friends suggest she might be jealous of Ritu, she rejects it, because not everyone dreams of some handsome man saving them. Priya goes to an all girl school and there are no boys in her friend group. Her life revolves around her family, her dreams, her friends, and schoolwork. No one talks about marriage, make-up, dressing “pretty”, any of those traditional things. I love it! It’s the kind of movie that boys get all the time, coming of age adventure movies, and which girls almost never get. Sitting behind me in the theater was a huge family group and the kids LOVED this movie. The language is a little harsh, but the “fun friends saving people” is timeless.


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