Among other things, Polite Society is also a coming-of-age story. Ria is a teenager. She can be impetuous and immature. At one point, unable to find any dirt on Salim, she tries to accuse him of complicity by planting condoms filled with hand lotion. She is also an entertaining and unreliable narrator. The film leans into this aspect, playing up melodrama and high stakes with overly dramatic looks and fantastical action sequences that see her fight off a host of adversaries such as her school bully, sadistic beauticians, disapproving aunts and his sister’s future mother-in-law. . At the bottom of it all, however, she also has an optimism and zest for life that shines through in her unwavering quest to become a stuntwoman and her one-sided correspondence with her idol (real-life British stuntwoman Eunice Huthart).
Dreams are a very important theme in the film. The Khan sisters disagree because, unlike Ria, Lena has decided to give up on her dream of becoming an artist. It could be argued that Lena being lost and consumed by self-doubt makes her easier prey for Salim and his mother who, it turns out, have malicious intent. Ria certainly thinks so. Raheela, on the other hand, dreams of a makeover for herself to live a life where she has not been held back by the patriarchy and has realized her true potential. The director successfully juxtaposes Ria and Raheela, protagonist and antagonist; one still possesses a youthful exuberance, while the other is embittered and resentful. Ria rejects Raheela’s claim that they both look alike, but it’s not hard to imagine the teenage heroine being forced to follow a similar path to her nemesis, should society continue to push her. down.
Indeed, in a film about the destruction of the patriarchy, Raheela makes for a fascinating villain. Manzoor plays with the concept of a matriarch supporting the patriarchy. On the surface, the character holds liberal views which set her apart from other more conservative-minded women in the South Asian community. For example, she has no problem with her future daughter-in-law sleeping at their house before the wedding. “We women shouldn’t have to hide our bodies,” she preaches to Salim and Lena at one point. However, without revealing too much, she does not hesitate to use the body of another woman without her consent to achieve her goals.