A Conversation with Nida Manzoor

On the heels of her acclaimed Muslim punk themed comedy series, “We Are Lady Parts” (2021), the young director is taking bold steps into genres seldom explored.

A Conversation with Nida Manzoor

London-based director Nida Manzoor has been making waves internationally with her theatrical debut, “Polite Society.” The story features British-Pakistani, teenage aspiring stuntwoman Ria Khan and her attempts to save her sister Lena from her impending wedding the sinister machinations she believes are behind it. On the heels of her acclaimed Muslim punk themed comedy series, “We Are Lady Parts” (2021), the young director is taking bold steps into genres seldom explored. 

Below is an interview we conducted with Nida Mansoor.

Fann Staff: The New York Times describes you as “a first-time filmmaker impatient to evolve cultural representation from the last few years of self-conscious vitamins into crowd-pleasing candy.” I found this really apt, but how do you feel about it? 

Nida Manzoor: I really love this quote. I have always struggled with the feeling my art had to be worthy, heavy, filled with trauma, preachy. Being a minority, there sometimes feels like there's an expectation that you're supposed to be teaching people something. It's so boring. The films that I loved were big, wild, bombastic genre movies — John Carpenter, Jackie Chan, Paul Verhoven, so that's what I wanted to do. That said, I do like my films to have meaning — to be saying something at the heart of them — but that is secondary for me. Entertainment first. 

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Being a minority, there sometimes feels like there's an expectation that you're supposed to be teaching people something. It's so boring.

Fann Staff: I saw “Polite Society” the other day, and it really blew me away. Your love of martial arts really shines through. Kung Fu was such a central component of the movie, it reminded me of how central punk rock was for “We Are Lady Parts.” In your interview with Drama Quarterly (in which you name-drop The Kominas, thank you for that), you say “There was more music rehearsal than there was acting rehearsal.” You describe having to nail down the band/music aspect first before proceeding. How involved was the prep process for “Polite Society?” 

Nida Manzoor: In making “We Are Lady Parts,” I realised so much of the great band dynamics we see on screen between the characters was forged when the actors were learning to play as a band, rather than in the acting rehearsals. It's just so visceral and physical and alive that it forges these incredible bonds and allows the actors to find their characters through learning their instruments. There is a parallel with “Polite Society”. It's an action movie, and the main character is a teen girl who dreams of being a stuntwoman. So in a similar way, my amazing lead actor Priya Kansara was able to find her character in all the fight training she had to do. She really nailed the character when she learned to fight.

Fann Staff: The book Mr. Darcy loses his mother, but your Desi Mr. Darcy character definitely still lives with her! The Oedipal relationship they have is so nasty but also so accurate. How, would you say, did you come up with that character? 

Nida Manzoor: I wanted to play with the stereotype of the Desi mothers and their obsession with their sons but turn it up to eleven, and satirize the shit out of it relentlessly. It was so much fun to create these baddies, and I just relished in it. Salim is both suave, charming and bratty mummy's boy, whilst his mother Raheela is a glamourous alpha-female, whose bitterness fuels her fury. I gotta say, I love seeing ladies rage, especially Desi aunties. 

Fann Staff: Humor and juxtaposition are common threads in your work. Now you’ve added physicality. Is the logical conclusion slapstick? Is it a Mel Brooks-esque comedy? 

Nida Manzoor: Mel Brooks! What a legend. I love comedy so much. It infuses everything I do. I get such a thrill out of using comedy as a tool to blend genres that that's where I'm really enjoying working. Mixing and remixing genres and using comedy to disarm audiences and bring them along for the wild ride as best I can!

Check out Polite Society, now streaming on Peacock.

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