Like a delirious cross between Scott Pilgrim and Bend It Like Beckham, Nida Manzoor's debut feature Polite Society isn't your usual coming of age flick. It centers on Ria Khan (Priya Kansara), a British Pakistani teen who dreams of becoming a stunt woman, but finds herself at a loss when her sister decides to marry a handsome young doctor. To help save her sister, she has to overcome the groom’s overbearing mother, a wonderfully sinister Nimra Bucha, and make her way through a series of knock down, drag out fights. It's the only film where you'll find wuxia wire work, a surprisingly aggressive recreation of a classic Bollywood dance sequence and sisterly bonding all in one place.
Manzoor started out as a television writer and director, most recently with the critically acclaimed (and also kick-ass) Peacock series We Are Lady Parts. I had a chance to chat with her as Polite Society hit US theaters last week, and I had one major question in mind: How does she live with tech?
Like any modern artist, Manzoor relies on gadgets for work and play, but she leans on her love of music the most. "I'm always building playlists," she said, "I've been relying on Spotify to hook me up with new stuff, and the algorithm knows me better than I know myself at this point." She listens to tunes mostly on a pair of "low key" JBL headphones, but given all of her traveling for film promotion these days, I recommended a pair of AirPods Pro or AirPods Max to help drown out the plane noise.
Polite Society's score, composed by her brother Shez Manzoor and Tom Howe (Ted Lasso), exemplifies the film's cross-cultural sensibilities. It flips between a dhol drum, bombastic orchestral compositions, and hard rocking electric guitar as easily as Priya Kansara delivers a flying kick to the head. (And where else will you find such an inspired recreation of Maar Daala from Devdas?)
So sure, Manzoor is a proven music nerd. But what if she could only use one of her existing devices for the rest of her life? (Just imagine a global catastrophe leads us to a Mad Max situation, where only the old gadgets survive.) As a writer, she chose the obvious: Her laptop. "Anything that has letters on it and I can write some jokes, then I'm happy," she said. Like Station Eleven, we could always use someone who can document the downfall of civilization as a stage play.
When it comes to older tech that she misses the most, Manzoor laments the loss of flip phones. "You can get off the phone, flip, and it's kind of a nice punctuation at the end of the call," she said. She also has a fondness for the old modem sounds that connected you to the internet, before broadband and fast cellular networks made it seamless. "There's the simple beauty of being able to only use it at this time, and this way," she said. (That's not too surprising to hear, since criticism of We Are Lady Parts effectively drove Manzoor off of social media.)
Looking ahead, Manzoor is hoping for the day when we can download skills to our brains like Neo in The Matrix. Yes, she wants to learn Kung Fu, but without the months of training her actors went through. That's not something we can do yet with brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), but if the technology keeps progressing, it may happen sooner than you think.