‘Stray Dogs Come Out At Night’ – In Conversation with Dr. Mina Husain

Stray Dogs Come Out At Night Featured Image

The sky is tinged with blue hues and a dusty rose – sunset – as Iqbal stares out into the Arabian Sea. A stray dog sifts through strewn rubbish nearby on the Karachi beach. There is an overwhelming sense of loneliness, as we follow this maalishwala (masseur), who is struggling to accept his illness and by extension, his profession. This is the setting of “Stray Dogs Come Out At Night,” a Pakistani short form narrative film that was selected late last year to the BFI London Film Festival. The film also makes strides in presenting themes of mental and sexual health; themes often rarely discussed in South-Asian communities.

Dr. Mina Husain is a practising psychiatrist in London, who lended her extensive knowledge and cultural experience to the production process. Stray Dogs Come Out At Night is her second film, (following Dia in 2018) and it delves into the complexities of living two lives; one that is transparent, and one that is shamefully hidden from family or friends. Husain summarises,

“The themes weaved through ‘Stray Dogs Come Out At Night’ bring up critical issues which resonate across cultures.”

The theme of a ‘double identity’ is not entirely unfamiliar to young people today. It can trigger a deterioration of one’s mental health, and evoke intense feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and self-doubt – all emotions felt by the film’s protagonist, Iqbal (Mohammad Ali Hashmi). I sat down with executive producer Dr. Mina Husain (digitally) to discuss the movie’s message and how young people can cope with mental health struggles during a pandemic.

I firstly want to say congratulations for Stray Dogs Come Out at Night, which was the first Pakistani short-form narrative film premiering at the BFI London Film Festival! How do you feel about the nomination?

“Just getting accepted into the BFI – we were over the moon! Myself and my director Hamza Bangash, sat down and had a conversation. We kind of made a last-minute decision to submit the film, not thinking we were going to get it. When I got the email I was literally jumping, telling everyone we got the BFI! We’re also really excited to be nominated for an award!”

How did the story of Iqbal, a maalishwala (masseur) who struggles to accept his illness, come to life?

“My inspiration and reasons for doing this film are quite different from the rest of my team, in the sense of: we come from really different backgrounds. I come from a medical background, I work in mental health, and so I actually got into film when I spent some time in Pakistan. I was working there for a year out of my training programme, and I was working in the mental health hospitals there. That’s where I kind of realised that people were becoming really mentally unwell, before they even accessed mental health services. We know that the longer mental illness is untreated, the worse the prognosis. That’s why we need to catch it early. The reasons why people weren’t accessing the service was because of the lack of awareness about mental illness, as well as the huge stigma that is attached to it. So that’s why I actually got into film! I met Hamza through various connections, reached out to him, and made our first film ‘Dia’ (2018) which is about a young girl that tries to escape a conservative family. She pursues an online relationship, detaches from reality, and it looks at some of society’s reaction to her illness. From there, we wanted to explore depression and anxiety, and focus on the social determinants of health: social factors which affect people’s mental health. We looked at population groups, like young men, who maybe aren’t particularly open about their problems, and migrants, who have their own set of challenges.

That was my first take on it! Then Hamza, who is much more creative than I am, saw particular groups of people around him like the maalishwalas. He lives in Karachi, so he started looking into this and researching. This story is unique to the specific character but the emotions that come from it translate across cultures. What we wanted to specifically explore was the fact that he is a migrant, he moved away from his family, and is essentially leading this double life. He is not able to talk about his profession; he is socially excluded, feeling trapped, and he’s got an illness that he is unable to talk about. Ultimately, he feels lonely and desperate, and that’s what we wanted to portray. The actor, Mohammad Ali Hashmi, also nailed the performance, he had this vacant expression the whole time, like he was there but not really there.”

Stray Dogs Come Out At Night Image 1
Mohammad Ali Hashmi in “Stray Dogs Come Out At Night” [Photo Source: Screenshot / Mina Hussain, Hamza Bangash, City Lights Productions]

You said that the “themes weaved through Stray Dogs Come Out at Night bring up critical issues which resonate across cultures” – do you see this especially in British Asian culture?

“I see it a lot in British Asian culture. Number one – this double life thing? It’s huge, even within my friendship circle. I see a lot of people keeping things from those closest to them, like family members. Also, migration. There’s a huge amount of people who have moved into different cities in the UK, away from their family, and also, moving to different countries. London is quite a transient city, similar to Karachi, where a lot of people are coming from various different places to work. I definitely think you can see a lot of these issues in the South Asian communities over here.”

I know it must have been such a huge feeling of pride to represent Pakistan in such an acclaimed stage like the BFI. So, I wanted to ask, why is it so important to bring South Asian stories that are specifically told from South Asian perspectives to wider audiences?

“Ultimately, as a team, we want to start rebranding our culture. South Asian culture has not always been portrayed in a positive light, so we want to really amplify the voices of South Asian actors, directors, writers, and more. That is one of the biggest reasons. Also, the usual stories are very cliché, and you don’t get a grip of what the culture is. We want to present very real stories from Pakistan, rather than the western perception of what Pakistan is.”

I’ve noticed that South-Asian representation is also very limiting, where everything is just labelled as ‘Indian’, when being South Asian includes countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and more]

“Yes, exactly! I think we’re all just lumped into one group of people. Even the term ‘BAME’ sometimes gets under my skin because it’s like, how can we group such a diverse group of people into one category?”

Was producing “Stray Dogs Come Out at Night” very different from producing “Dia,” your 2018 short film?

“We used the same team, which was great! They both came with a different set of challenges, especially with the type of stories we were trying to tell. At the moment, we’re trying to touch on things that are relatively controversial – but do it sensitively. Going through Dia, kind of prepared us for this. We were vague about certain things, because we didn’t want to be ‘in your face’ about it. Dia was very challenging because that was the first time, I had done anything with film and the arts. But it was great to work with a creative team in Pakistan as well as a mental health organisation called Pakistan Institute of Living and Learning. They were the ones who funded this, and the whole collaboration was great – the fact that it was a UK-Pakistan collaboration was awesome.”

Stray Dogs Come Out At Night Image 3
[Photo Source: Screenshot / Mina Hussain, Hamza Bangash, City Lights Productions]

What is so powerful about using the medium of film to convey these deeper messages?

“I think nowadays, there’s so much content, and it’s easy to access it. I know, from research, that film is a really influential art-form. The data shows that it shapes the way we perceive things, like the way we perceive mental illness. There have been quite a few controversial films that have come out where mental illness has not been accurately portrayed – it’s been harmful for people, and our speciality as well.

Mental health is quite a unique speciality in that you’ve really got to trust your doctor. I know that is the same in all branches of medicine, however, I feel like in psychiatry, this is the most important – having a good understanding and trust between the doctor and patient. Films like One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest really took us a step back, with how people began perceiving treatment as dangerous. I feel that films reflect society, as well as influencing society.”

So, you are a successful practising psychiatrist, as well as being a film producer. These disciplines seem totally far apart. Do you find that the skills are transferable? Does one inspire the other?

“For me, definitely! They seem to marry quite nicely. Firstly, my training programme has been really good – Royal College of Psychiatrists – in allowing me to pursue this and take time off when I needed it. I guess in terms of representation of characters, having a background in mental health has really helped. However, a lot of stuff in the film has helped me in my clinical practises as well. To be in mental health – you really need to question your own perspective. You can’t be a good psychiatrist and be judgemental, you know? So, hearing other people’s stories and perspectives, especially from the people that I’m working with, like the cast and the crew, helps me in my job. Both of them help me work on the other, if that makes sense. They seem like they’re worlds apart, but they’re actually very similar!”

You’re an adviser to Colourful Minds, an organisation I’m familiar with as a student in London. Could you tell me more about your work there?

“I’m part of the team there! Colourful Minds is an organisation which is looking at supporting the mental wellbeing of children in the BAME community. The starting aim was to reduce the stigma of mental health and start off with schools. But now, we have expanded to giving more general tips on wellness, and going into schools and religious places like gurudwaras, mosques, and churches, to support children who come from deprived backgrounds. We have got a great team of people to provide these sessions. It’s based in London but we’re looking to expand!”

Stray Dogs Come Out At Night Image 4
[Photo Source: Screenshot / Mina Hussain, Hamza Bangash, City Lights Productions]

The times we are living in are so extraordinary, and honestly, terrifying. So, it’s unsurprising that a lockdown environment causes specific mental health issues to flare up – how do you think young people, specifically in the BAME community can combat these challenges?

“We have a lot of strengths, specifically in our South Asian culture, like family values, or how tight knit our communities are. I feel like we need to amplify our strengths, like leaning on family members and starting conversations. The other thing we need to focus on is actually religion. Again, a lot of South Asian people are practising various religions, and I think religion does provide a sense of hope and can be an anchor for people. Ultimately, we’ve got to look after ourselves. Basic things: have a healthy diet, get out, exercise, and make sure your sleep is adequate. Look after yourselves and lean on each other during these difficult times.”

You said an extremely important point: “It is imperative that health services adapt to meet the needs of the largest ethnic minority group in the UK.” Where do you feel health services, government outreach, and even the education system has fallen short? Where can they do more?

“I can talk specifically about mental health. I think everybody’s learning. The expression of distress looks different in different minority groups. Somebody who’s South Asian and is depressed is going to (or can) express it differently than how a white person would express it. We need to start understanding this, and it also needs to go into our curriculums. We need more representation, like when we’re practising doing clinical interviews in medical school. We need to start involving different members of various communities.

I also think that we need to push representation as a community. For example, there aren’t actually that many South-Asian therapists, and we know that in order to have effective therapy, you need that patient-therapist relationship, and so, an understanding of culture is so important for that. Your therapy needs to be culturally adapted – it cannot be generic.”

This is a huge question, but something I’m truly passionate about. What steps can we take to destigmatise mental health conditions in the South-Asian community?

“I think that there are so many different campaigns and strategies we can use. Things like mental health days, suicide prevention days – all of these campaigns are beneficial. Film and media is an important tool. Our own platforms, like social media, can be utilised to start the dialogue. Community events, publications, and public spaces, when they get opened, can also be used. I think film is a great way to do it because it’s very non-personal. You can talk about something without bringing your own vulnerabilities into it.”

[Read Related: ‘Little Voice’ Star Shalini Bathina Talks BIPOC Representation & Mental Health Advocacy]

As we settle into a new year, what advice can you give young people (who are predominantly doing remote learning) to stay healthy?

“I’m a person who can get inside their own head so I think to young people, I would say, to the things that aren’t serious, don’t take it so seriously; put things into perspective. Then I’d say all the basics again, look after yourself, look after your physical and mental health, sort out your sleep, and talk to people that you trust. Finally, don’t be afraid to get professional help, because sometimes, people need it. We’ll probably all need it at some point in our lives and there’s absolutely no shame in getting it.”

By Ketki Mahabaleshwarkar

Ketki currently studies Classics and English Literature at King’s College London. She is the deputy editor-in-chief of Strand Magazine, KCL’s … Read more ›

‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’: A Modern-day Exploration of Love Across Cultures

What's Love Got To Do With It

It is the strength of both British and South Asian cinema that every few years, and with increasing regularity, a film comes along that is able to successfully and thoughtfully bridge the highs and lows of both cultures. With the recognisable cross-cultural DNA of films like “Bend it Like Beckham”, “Bride and Prejudice and others before it, Shekhar Kapur brings to the silver screen an honest and comedic representation of East meets West with “What’s Love Got To Do With It” — an exploration of love and marriage across international norms. 

[Read Related: Joyland: A Film Rising Above Unacceptability With a Story of Acceptance]

Written and produced by Jemima Khan, the film draws from elements of her own experience of marrying then-Pakistani cricket star and now ex-Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and relocating to the country for 10 years.

“Particularly in the West, Pakistanis would quite often be seen as terrorists, fanatics and backwards,” says Khan, as she reminisces about her time spent in Pakistan over Zoom. “My experience of living in Pakistan was very colourful, vibrant, and fun. I always felt like the rom-com side of Pakistan was more surprising than anything else.”

 A film not just about the heart, but with a lot of heart of its own, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” touches on South Asian families, culture, individuality, and marriages in the 21st century. Set in the UK and Pakistan, this is a feel-good and fun story about childhood best friends and neighbours, Zoe and Kazim, AKA Kaz. And as the narrative unfolds, new light is shone on their friendship and questions are asked about the cultural norms and practices we have grown to accept.

It isn’t your usual ‘boy-meets-girl’ tale. On the contrary, they’ve known each other forever; the fabric of their lives intertwined. Kaz is a British-Pakistani doctor of “marriageable” age, opting for an “assisted” marriage set in motion by his own desire rather than parental duress. 

“I think we’ve replaced the term “arranged” with “assisted” because South Asian parents now trust their kids more to make the right decision for themselves,” said Shahzad Latif, sitting next to Lily James, who nods in agreement. “It’s still a process. Some parents may have more confidence in their kids than others, but we’re getting there.”

Zoe – played by Lily James – is a professional documentary maker living on an inexplicably fancy houseboat (bit of a stretch for somebody having difficulty funding projects, but, at this point, a crucial ingredient for London rom-coms). As a white British woman, her method of finding love isn’t one that involves parents or family.

“It was a no-brainer for me to be part of the script,” says a smiling James in response to whether any culture shocks were encountered during filming and table reads. “Pakistani culture is so rich and colourful, and it was important for me to showcase this side of the country. So no, no culture shocks per se, just more singing and dancing in comparison to British culture!”

Zoe’s camera is the vehicle through which the film examines Kaz’s “contractual love”, as she trawls dating apps while following her best friend down the assisted aisle.

What's Love Got To Do With It
Emma Thompson, who plays the role of Zoe’s mother in the film, with Shabana Azmi.

Emma Thompson’s Cath plays the comedic matriarch to Zoe, eager to witness the conclusion of her daughter’s swiping days by being with someone suitable. She’s found a family in Shabana Azmi’s Aisha Khan – a more layered mum — one that is embracing both tradition and modernity. It would be fair to say that Azmi successfully sells cinema-goers on the difficulty of that struggle.

“Today’s society is slowly coming to terms with providing children the space they rightfully require and deserve to make decisions,” says Azmi, reflecting on how scripts and films have evolved over time. “Gone are the days when parents would blackmail their children into marrying the first person they come across. Just because they are their kids doesn’t mean they are actually children. They are adults with views and minds of their own.”

Kaz is then introduced to Maimoona (Sajal Aly); a shy introvert from Pakistan, unsure about the idea of moving permanently to London. She’s dealing with internal battles of her own; battles between personal desires and societal expectations.

“Maimoona may not have verbally said much, but her face said everything,” explains Aly, looking beautiful and radiant as ever. “She is torn between what she wants and what society silently shoves down at her and eventually, she goes with what the latter expects.”

The film navigates between London and a fabricated Lahore filmed in the suburbs of the British capital; a feat that comes as testament to the film’s production design. Kaz and Zoe’s jaunts across Lahore, backdropped by its magnificent architecture, set the stage for Pakistani music legends to shine, including the mesmerising voice of Rahet Fateh Ali Khan. 

What's Love Got To Do With It
Pakistani actress Sajal Aly plays Maimoona — torn between her own desires and society’s expectations.

And if this wasn’t enough, Nitin Sawhney and Naughty Boy add further melody to the film’s music, as they talk about their experience of creating appropriate tunes such as the foot-thumping “Mahi Sona”. 

“It was a great process and experience to create an appropriate language and expression of music which added elements and flavours to the film,” says the duo enthusiastically. “It’s also an ode to our South Asian heritage.”

Even though the tone of “What’s Love Got To Do With It” is distinctly feel-good, the film thoughtfully explores the unconventional ways that relationships may be built, and what multiculturalism can teach one another. Is it, in fact, more sensible to be practical about relationships? Is it possible to learn to love the person we’re with? Is love really the only ingredient needed for a successful marriage? Why was Kaz’s sister shunned for marrying outside of their culture? And do Western relationships draw more on the ideas of assisted partnerships than we realise?

A clever reference is drawn from the moment Prince Charles shattered many royal dreamers’ hearts with his dismissive “whatever in love means” comment upon his engagement to Princess Diana, thus proving that these notions may be closer to home in the West than one might believe.

James and Latif are a charismatic pair, with Zoe married to her independence and Kaz gently questioning her prejudices. The film is also a vivid demonstration of British talent, with Asim Chaudhry playing a hilarious yet questionable rishta uncle, comic duo Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen appearing as a pair of TV commissioners with a briefcase of ridiculous ideas, and Nikkita Chadha as the confrontational Baby — the film’s feisty rebel, in love with dancing. 

[Read Related: Ms. Marvel’s Iman Vellani and Mohan Kapur Talk Cultural Pride, Hollywood and Brown Representation]

“It’s incredible to be part of such a diverse and stellar cast,” smiles Chadha animatedly, while sipping on tea at Soho House in London. “My character is defiant and nonconformist — perfectly conflicting with the name “Baby “. I’m really excited for everyone to watch the film.”

Divorce is still stigmatised in South Asia — a theme often carefully avoided in desi films and television. Khan gently addresses it as a twist in the film – with a reminder that be it love or assisted marriage — amicable and mutual separations are a possibility.

As a complete package, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” deftly wraps up all the emotions associated with love and family in its joyful, musical, and vibrant 109-minute runtime. With its cast, music and direction, this classic rom-com is set to make you laugh, cry and, even more importantly, make you think about the multi-dimensional nature of love within and across cultures. The film is now showing in cinemas worldwide, and we highly recommend it.

Photos Courtesy: Studiocanal/Working Title

This piece is written by Brown Girl writer Queenie Shaikh in collaboration with Marium Abid

Desk bound by day and travel bound all other times – Queenie thrives on her weekly dose of biryani and chilli paneer. She recently released her first book called The Poor Londoner, which talks about comical expat experiences people face worldwide. With degrees in Journalism and Creative Writing, her work and research on gender inequality in the travel industry is taught in universities across the globe. Her travels and everyday fails can be found on Instagram (@thepoorlondoner) and YouTube (The Poor Londoner).

Originally from Karachi, Pakistan and now blended into the hustle-bustle of London, Marium is a trainee technology consultant, by day and sometime also night, and also finishing her bachelors in Digital Innovation. In the midst of striving to be someone, she enjoys dreaming about the impossible (impossible according to desi standards and sometime Harry Potter impossible as well), and writing about them. She enjoys baking, decorating things and a cup of chai!

By Brown Girl Magazine

Born out of the lack of minority representation in mainstream media, Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South … Read more ›

The Poetry Film Breaking Genres and National Borders

“After so Long” is a poetry film created for Simha’s EP, which is streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. The poem was collaboratively written by Simha, a U.S. native, and Jae, who is based in India, during the 2020 lockdown. “After so Long” was recited by Simha and their parents. In 2022, I directed and produced the film through my studio, Star Hopper. “After so Long” premiered on Nowness Asia in March 2022.

This film is a worldwide collaboration among trans and queer south-Asian artists from the United States, India and Canada. It was recorded, shot and filmed during the lockdown of 2020 and 2021.

[Read Related: Poetry That Reflects the Fire Inside]

[Read Related: A Bengali Muslim Boy’s Poetic Journey Through Himself]

After So Long (English Translation)

Awake at 10 am but out of bed at noon,
I want to be here where I lose myself in these sheets
Glancing through half-shut eyes
At the gold pressing past my window
The glimmer remarks on the ledge of my bed
But the voices are so loud
Like dust collecting in the corner of my room
I am unaware to why I’m still here
With the chilling doubt of the breeze…
I’m swept into lucidity After so long

Mil rahi hoon mein aaj iske saang barso baad,
(Today, I’ll be meeting them after so long)
Koi paata nahi diya tune
(But with no destination sight,)
Kya karu?
(What should I do?)
Kaha jau?
(Where should I go?)
Shayad agar mein chalne lagoon,
(Perhaps, if I keep walking)
Inn yaadon ki safar mein
(Down this road of memories)
Mujhe samajh mein ayega,
(I will find out)
Yeh rasta kahaan jayega,
(Where this road leads)
Inn aari tedhi pakadandiyon pe baarte hi jaana hai,
(Through the twists and turns of this winding roads, I must keep going on)
Mujhe mil na hain aaj uske saath,
(I wish to meet them today)
Barso baad.
(After so long)

I feel like I’m retracing my footsteps
From these concrete stretches
To broken cement walls
Chips and cracks forge their way for new designs
I see the old abandoned buildings
That once held the warmth of bodies
Now just hold memories
Supporting the nature’s resilience
In vines and moss
After so long

Dhoondli shishe mein jaaga leli hai
(These isty mirrors have offered refuge)
Bikhri hui laatao ne,
(To these scattered vines)
Zameen pe uchi ghaas pe
(Amidst the tall grass stretching from the ground)
Lehrati kamsan kaliyaa
(The swaying little buds)
Bheeni bheeni khushboo bikhereti
(Spreading honeysuckle scent through the air)
Phir wahi mausam,
(I lose myself in reminiscing, the same season)
Wahi dil,
(The same heart)
Baarso baad.
(After so long)
Phir bhi mein chal rahi hoon aaj
(Still, I keep carrying on today)
Khudko khudse milane ke liye
(In the pursuit of my higher self)
Inn galiyo se guzarna hain aaj
(I must pass through these streets today)
Chaalte chaale jaana hai aaj
(I must keep going on today)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor paar
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
barso baad
(After so long)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor pe
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
barso baad
(After so long)

[Read Related: How to Follow Your Heart, Even When it’s Hard]


Poem by Simha & Jae
Produced by Star Hopper Studios
Directed by Varsha Panikar
Cinematography and grading by Tanmay Chowdhary
Editing by Asawari Jagushte
Featuring Vaishakh Sudhakaran
Music Production by Simha
Hindi editing by Rama Garimella
Recited by Simha, Rama Garimella, Annaji Garimella
English Translation by Nhylar

The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Varsha Panikar

Varsha Panikar (they/he) is a filmmaker, writer and multi-disciplinary artist from India. They are the co-founder of Star Hopper, a … Read more ›

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History — A Review of Sundance’s ‘Polite Society’

Polite Society

For any of us who have siblings, the relationship with them can be one of the most fulfilling ones. And also one of the most bloody frustrating. No one can quite stroke the fire like someone who knows you extremely well, or sometimes not, but have a familial bond with that neither one of you chose. In “Polite Society,“directed by Nida Manzoor, sisters Ria Khan and Lena Khan’s loving, sweet, and sometimes tumultuous relationship takes center stage. 

[Read Related: Poorna Jagannathan and Richa Moorjani of Netflix’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ on Womanhood, Racism, and Issues Generations of Desi Women Still Struggle With]

Played delightfully by Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya, respectively, the evolution of their relationship is one of the film’s greatest and simultaneously weakest points. It’s also pretty cool to see two South Asian actresses in an action-comedy movie — how refreshing it is to mention the art of choreography and praise it in regards to fight sequences vs. dance sequences for a film centered on two South Asian women — that itself shows progress. 

Set in London, Ria is an aspiring stunt woman who already shows massive talent in martial arts. She looks up to her older sister Lena, who is enrolled in art school and, also holds remarkable potential in a somewhat less traditionally acceptable field. Their relationship starts off as supportive and sweet with no inclinations of jealousy or resentment that sometimes plagues sisterly bonds. But this also means that they are quite protective of one another, almost to the detriment of their well wishes for each other. 

This all happens when Lena gets engaged after dropping out of art school. Ria feels betrayed. They were supposed to be on this journey together in fighting for their dreams. Ria decides that she knows what’s best for her sister and enlists the help of her friends to rescue the damsel in distress from her own wedding. Her deep animosity towards the prospect of Lena getting married is also fueled by Lena’s fiancé and his mother acting extremely suspiciously. The twist that ultimately brings the two sisters back together is both shocking and weirdly somewhat progressive in the motive behind the villain’s origin story. But the twist, unfortunately, is too ambitious for the movie as it tacks on another genre and theme earnestly, but still clunkily. 

“Polite Society” tackles not only what it means to fight for one’s dreams but also what it means to have just one ardent supporter. As Lady Gaga famously said, “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you but all it takes is one and it just changes your whole life.” Well, Ria’s Bradley Cooper was her very own sister who seemed to abandon her, and her faith in her, when she chose a different path. For Lena, the film opened up the question of marriage and the weight it bears in the life of a South Asian woman. Ria’s lack of understanding of the pressure it places on Lena is the start of the change in their relationship — the start of Ria’s coming of age and the start of Lena settling firmly into her adulthood. 

Polite Society
Director Nida Manzoor, cinematographer Ashley Connor and actor Priya Kansara on the set of their film “Polite Society.”

Standouts from the cast include Ria’s best friends, played by Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri, who commit to the story and characters with such hilarity and conviction. They add the lightheartedness and playfulness the film needs, and it is refreshing that never once do they use Ria’s cultural background as a way to make fun of her or dismiss her.

[Read Related: Ms. Marvel’s Iman Vellani and Mohan Kapur Talk Cultural Pride, Hollywood and Brown Representation]

It is also heartening to see Lena and Ria’s parents being some of the most supportive South Asian parents seen on screen. At the end of the day, it is not the external family pressure that impacts the decisions made by the sisters but rather their own satisfaction, or lack thereof, with their own lives that become the driving force of their actions. 

“Polite Society” is written and directed by a South Asian woman for South Asian women, and is definitely worth a watch when it releases in theaters this April. 

Photo Credits: Focus Features LLC

By Nimarta Narang

Born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand, Nimarta grew up devouring Hindi movies, coming-of-age novels and one too many psychology textbooks. … Read more ›