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Nida Manzoor • Director of Polite Society

“I have never seen myself represented in the films I love”


- The British director breaks down her action-packed satire of martial-arts and Bollywood movies

Nida Manzoor  • Director of Polite Society

After Polite Society [+see also:
film review
interview: Nida Manzoor
film profile
had its world premiere at Sundance, British director Nida Manzoor now presents her action-packed satire about a young girl who wants to become a stuntwoman at the Glasgow Film Festival. It will be the closing film of the gathering and will shortly get a release in cinemas worldwide. We talked to the helmer about her love of genre films, her inspiration for the main character and the shooting of the action scenes.

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Cineuropa: Did you grow up with this kind of film?
Nida Manzoor:
The movie mixes a lot of genres that I love. I grew up watching martial-arts and Jackie Chan movies. I remember I loved them so much. I watched a lot of Bollywood films and teen comedies, also. There were especially some American teen comedies that I loved. For Polite Society, I wanted to put all of this together and to put in something from a world that I know. I have never seen myself represented in the films I love, so it was a dream come true to make this movie.

What did you want to do differently in your own interpretation of this kind of film?
The main thing was to centre on a South Asian girl, to tell a story about her and her sister. For everything else, I wanted to use the genre conventions; I wanted to use all of the stereotypes. I conceived of the action story as the Trojan Horse through which I would tell this tale of sisterhood and femininity.

Are there any elements of your own experience and your family background that you put in the story?
Much of the story is drawn from personal experience. For example, my mother had a lot of pressure on her from society, which looked very closely at what we were doing. And it's all about the idea of what it means to be a good girl. The character of Ria is almost a catharsis for me, since she is not the classical, well-behaved young woman that she is – and I am – supposed to be.

Where did the inspiration for the crime story come from?
I wanted the story to become more and more absurd with each act. I was inspired by films that have a social commentary, like Jordan Peele did with Get Out. This is where the element of the control over the women's bodies comes from, for instance. Besides that, I wanted to have this Bollywood tenor in the film, where everything is over the top.

What were the most important aspects when developing the characters of the two sisters?
Because the film is so wild in all the set pieces, the sisters' relationship had to ground the movie in order for it to be successful. It was important to cast them correctly, making sure the chemistry between the actors worked.

Was it difficult to find the right actresses?
Especially for the lead character of Ria, yes. I needed an actress who could do the comedy, be the star, and do the emotional and the physical stuff all at once. We had a big casting call, with professional and non-professional actors. Only very late on did I see Priya Kansara, and she came the closest to what I was searching for. I knew we couldn't make the film without finding her. As for Lena, I’d worked with Ritu Arya before and knew how good she was. She is so cool; she is very edgy and is naturally punk.

What were the biggest challenges in terms of the production of the film?
The action scenes were a challenge, but I was also able to put in all of the action scenes I like from other films. I was like a kid in a candy shop, asking if we could do this or that scene. It was hard, but I had a huge team helping me. I love directing action scenes – you have to have patience and pay attention to the details, and also be slow and be safe. You are really focused.

At Sundance, the film was shown in the Midnight section, while at Glasgow, it will be the closing movie. How would you define your main audience?
It's hard for me to say. At the Midnight screening, there was an audience of genre fans, really up for some craziness. But also at Glasgow, I guess people know what they are going into, and it will be people who like this kind of silliness, probably. Those who expect a serious story probably won't love it. I know that teenagers respond well to it because we did test screenings. But it also plays well with other age groups, if you like the style. It's for anyone who is up for a silly genre film.

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