In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Polite Society, we talk about themes that help us understand the film.
- Ria Khan – Priya Kansara
- Lena Khan – Ritu Arya
- Fatima Khan – Shobu Kapoor
- Rafe Khan – Jeff Mirza
- Raheela – Nimra Bucha
- Salim – Akshay Khanna
- Clara – Seraphina Beh
- Alba – Ella Bruccoleri
- Kovacs – Shona Babayemi
- Eunice Huthart – Eunice Huthart
- Written by – Nida Manzoor
- Directed by – Nida Manzoor
The themes and meaning of Polite Society
Pursuing your dreams
Polite Society has three primary characters: Ria, Lena, and Raheela. All three of them represent a different relationship with personal dreams.
Ria is the youngest and fully invested in the dream of becoming the best professional stuntwoman.
Lena is a few years older but recently dropped out of art school after a crisis of faith in her ability to be a professional artist.
Raheela is decades older, a wealthy mother who never had the opportunity to pursue her dreams because she fell into the traditional path of marriage and parenthood.
It can be helpful to look at the characters as metaphors for states of being any person can go through. Ria, the passion of youth. Lena, the disillusionment of young adulthood. Raheela, the bitterness of midlife. It’s fitting that Raheela’s main goal is to clone herself so she can return to that youthful state and pursue her passions.
Even though Ria is the main hero and Raheela the main antagonist, Lena is the everyperson. She’s on the razor’s edge between passion and bitterness. She can continue a progressive, individual journey or give it up for a more conservative, traditional life.
A cog in the machine
Most people don’t get to pursue their dreams but that doesn’t mean they’ll have a bad life. It’s different from what they thought they wanted. That’s all. And we see this with Lena. She genuinely seems happy to be with Salim and more than willing to go live a life with him in Singapore. As much as she loved art and thought she wanted to be an artist, she’s okay with not having that.
Polite Society could have let the characters have that balance. Ria chooses passion. Lena chooses something else. And it’s okay. Both are happy. Instead, it takes a much more radical angle by having Lena’s path be a trap. Salim’s relationship with Lena is a front as he only wants to use her womb as part of an experiment to clone Raheela. This plot point takes on more thematic depth when we look at the implications of class. Lena is middle class. Salim and Raheela are exceptionally wealthy. Through that lens, we see the upper class preying upon the middle class. Selling them on a lie. “This will benefit you!” When, in reality, Lena’s nothing more than a means to an end.
Given the title Polite Society is a euphemism that refers to the upper class, it seems the film is criticizing everything Raheela embodies. The social impact the upper class has on everyone below. The way in which the upper class can rob people of their future by driving them into more traditional roles that only benefit the establishment.
Ria can’t save Lena on her own. She needs her friends. Clara and Alba play a huge role in events. When we look at this through the broader lens, it points to the collective pushing back against those at the top. Individuals can only get so far. But when people unite and work together, they’re much more powerful and capable.
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