‘Polite Society’ is a brilliant Bollywood homage

Spoilers: Director Nida Manzoor tells IndieWire why she insisted on including an iconic song her protagonist uses as a distraction during a key sequence.

(Editor’s note: This story contains spoilers for “Polite Society”.)

It took everything to keep from shouting out loud during ‘Polite Society’.

Not the intense fight sequences, the killer martial arts, or not even that that twist – what this reporter got up to was a dance sequence that unfolds during the film’s final act. As Ria (Priya Kansara) dances at her sister Lena’s (Ritu Arya) wedding, she aims to ‘distract’ the assembled guests while her friends are busy executing a master plan that consumes most of the film’s runtime. Dressed in an emerald green dress, Ria takes the stage and the opening notes of ‘Maar Dala’ are played.

Composed by Ismail Darbar with lyrics by Nusrat Badr, ‘Maar Dala’ first appeared in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 2002 film ‘Devdas’, based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s 1917 novel of the same name. In the film, Madhuri Dixit-Nene performs the number (sung by Kavita Krishnamurthy and KK) as courtesan Chandramukhi, declaring that she has “killed” her in joy at the arrival of Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan).

Hum pe yeh kisne
Hara rang
Khushi ne humare hume
Maardala… Allah…

Who threw it at me
This is the color green
I have my happiness
Killed me… my god…

“I grew up loving Bollywood movies and I thought, ‘I have to do this,’” Manzoor told IndieWire in a recent interview. “In a weird way, I think, ‘what if this is the only film I can make?’, so I have to put everything I love into it, and part of that is respecting Bollywood. … Maar Dala only works lyrically. It operated on two levels. I didn’t add subtitles – South Asians will understand. It’s a little something extra.”

The “Polite Society” performance pays homage to the original on every level, from Kansara’s dazzling green costume to the choreography (trained in the classical Indian dance forms of Bharatanatyam and Kathak, the latter of which permeates this piece) to the ensemble. movement to the fancy floor that everyone is dancing on.

The song also takes on a new meaning as Ria uses it to warn Lena’s fiance Salim (Akshay Khanna) that she knows what he’s hiding: he’s responsible for the death of his first wife and is hurting her sister in the same way.


Citing the works of Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodovar and Edgar Wright, Manzoor said he likes movies that like movies. “There is homage and there is theft,” cinematographer Ashley Connor told IndieWire. “Nida, the actors, everyone who really grew up on Bollywood films… that was something we really wanted to honor.”

Deleting music, especially from another country, can be challenging and expensive on a feature film, but Manzoor told IndieWire that the script had “Maar Dala” in it from the beginning and there was no other option if it wasn’t cleared. He made it a priority once the film was greenlit and credits the power of Universal for helping him get it.

Connor studied the “Devdas” series (“it’s so incredible”) so that he and his team “respect the reference without implying it.”

The song also honors Bollywood and Broadway traditions (and the Greek chorus if you travel back far enough) by imbuing the scene with dramatic irony. In Farah Khan’s 2007 film ‘Om Shanti Om’, protagonist Shahrukh Khan sings the entire plot of the film in ‘Dastaane’ – a number that is included as entertainment for the large audience in the scene, but is used by Om directly to address the villain (Arjun Rampal) and foreshadows his performance.

Har gham ko humne chupaya
Har sitam ko haske uthaya
Kaanto ko bhi gale se lagaya
Aur phoolon se zakhm khaya

I hide all my sorrows
I faced every problem with a smile
I even hugged the thorns
And the flowers hurt him

A director on set addresses a group of young women in formal Indian dress who sit and stand on an ornate floor between dance numbers;  still behind the scenes "Polite Society"

Priya Kansara and her ensemble dancers on the set of ‘Polite Company’

Parisa Taghizadeh

It is true that ‘Maar Dala’ is one of the most prolific Bollywood songs of this century (if not ever). Dixit Nene is one of the most revered and beloved heroines of the Indian film industry, recognized for her particularly expressive presence as a dancer. “Devdas,” which debuted at Cannes and was the most expensive Indian film ever made at the time, was Bhansali’s fifth feature and established him as a master of scale and visuals. This is not a tribute one takes lightly.

“I’m not a crazy pro or anything, I’m not Madhuri Dixit,” Kansara told IndieWire. “But I felt really honored to do this dance because I used to watch ‘Devdas’ when I was little and I loved it. He was this wonderful, charming person on screen – like, how can someone be so charming?

As Connor points out, Kansara wasn’t supposed to live up to Dixit-Nene’s performance, she was simply supposed to play a teenage girl dancing at a wedding. “They were very specific about what that meant. Like she should look good, but not diva-like,” she said.

It must have been scary for Kansara – who already had to study martial arts to get into the head of “this freaking psychotic character” for his first feature film; Ria wants to be a stunt performer, so the character is constantly performing crazy physical feats — but the actor has found a way to ease the pressure.

“The idea that I was just Ria in that moment allowed her to take the pressure off,” she said. “Because he’s somebody that I know and he’s somebody that I feel confident in and that I like and I’m very comfortable with. It was a real dream come true, it was a moment.”

Released by Focus Functions, “Polite Society” is now in theaters.

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