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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Polite confusion

Titles can’t be copyrighted, but usually, this isn’t a problem: No one is likely to mistake a classic Victorian novel for a 1970s boxing movie or an oral history of the Great Depression, even if all three are called Hard Times.

And yet I’ve spent the past few weeks in a state of title-induced befuddlement.

See, a few years ago, I read an Austen-influenced novel called Polite Society--an Emma update set in upper-crust New Delhi. I hated it.

But when I heard about an Austen-influenced movie called Polite Society that is set in a South Asian community in London, I figured it must be based on the book. I mean, what were the odds of there being two different Austen-influenced stories set in South Asian communities and called Polite Society?

Apparently, those odds were pretty good, since as far as I can tell, the book and the movie have nothing to do with each other.

The movie, which opened in theaters last month, is a comedy/action/martial-arts/Bollywood mashup about a British teenager who dreams of being a stuntwoman and sets out to sabotage her older sister's wedding to a possibly disastrous suitor.

Critics appear to be contractually obligated to name-check Jane Austen whenever they review the movie (for example, here, here, and here), and writer/director Nida Manzoor cites Austen as one of her influences. Reviews have been excellent. Previews look fun. Apparently, the movie was a big hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

I remember virtually nothing about the book, by Mahesh Rao, but online summaries make no mention of sisters, sabotage, or stuntwomen, instead sketching an Emma-esque plot about matchmaking, gossip, and friends-to-lovers romance.

So I guess I have to chalk up the coincidence of titles to, well, coincidence. Unless, of course, both book and movie are based on that Jane Austen board game.


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