When Priya Kansara signed on to play Ria Khan in the film Polite Society—an anarchic action comedy about an aspiring stunt woman who attempts an ambitious heist to save her sister from a disastrous marriage—she knew it would be a physically demanding role. But just how intense would it actually be for her? Well, sometimes, ignorance is bliss. “I filled out an entire skills section of a CV doing this job,” the actress says with a laugh. For someone whose average day on set consisted of martial arts, riding bikes, doing dances, and scaling buildings, a scene where she was simply sitting down was a rare luxury.
Watching Kansara’s vibrant performance in Polite Society, it’s hard to believe that just two years ago she was working a normal 9-to-6 job at a pharmaceutical company. The UK native’s transition from after-hours acting student (she took night classes at Identity School of Acting) to feature-film lead has been swift—surely a testament to her charisma on-screen.
For as long as she can remember, Kansara has wanted to be an actor. Chalk it up to the Bollywood films she’d watch with her mother or her dad’s love of action movies or the fact that her family would try to go to the theater every Christmas. The arts were ever present in her life growing up. “It was such a big thing that we all used to love and enjoy with each other,” she shares. “To have that influence at such a young age and to also have so many forms of escape and adventure in your life through the arts and through film, television, and theater, I couldn’t help but want to be a part of all of it.” But leaving her secure job for the unpredictable entertainment industry wouldn’t be easy. She had to get her family’s approval first.
Mirroring a scene in Polite Society when Ria tells her parents she wants to be a stunt woman post-graduation, Kansara sat down with her mother, father, and brother and confidently told them her new career plans. “I remember sitting at the dinner table … and being like, ‘I’m going to quit my job and be an actor,”’ she tells me. “And they were like, ‘Um, do you want to book a job first?’” Kansara understood the pivot would come with some risks, but she couldn’t wait any longer. “Some people would call it brave, and others would call it psychopathic. I mean it’s terrifying—I won’t lie,” she says. “To leave that system and be on my own and have to fend for myself in that way was terrifying, but it was also truly freeing.” It took one conversation for Kansara’s family to be on board, and shortly thereafter, she booked her first job.
Kansara made her small-screen debut last year playing Miss Eaton in season two of Bridgerton, which she described as “an incredible learning ground,” followed by the Netflix series The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself. After submitting a self-tape for another part in Polite Society, she was asked to come in and read for the film’s lead, Ria. Walking into the Working Title offices and meeting the producers and writer-director Nida Manzoor—whose previous work, such as We Are Lady Parts, Kansara admired—was both terrifying and incredibly rewarding. “I remember reading with them that day and them helping me to lean into the craziness of the story and lean into how wired Ria is as a person,” she recalls. “Ria is just this spirited, determined young lady, and she’s just such a fun character, and the story is absolutely bonkers. You have to be ready to go on this ride.”
And ready to go on the ride she was. The day after landing the part, Kansara started her prep, which consisted of grueling martial arts and stunt training three to four days a week. Kansara was quite literally living out her character’s dream. Although she had no prior martial arts experience, her background in dance gave her the stamina to keep up. “I wanted to try everything from the beginning,” she says. “Whether I was a natural at it… Look, I probably had a false sense of confidence. I was probably like, ‘I’m so good!’ And they were like, ‘We’re using a double.’”
The training prior to filming was a great way for Kansara to get into Ria’s body physically, but as far as getting into her headspace, that came a bit more naturally. The relationship between Ria and her sister Lena reminded Kansara a lot of her two cousins who are like sisters to her. There was a familiarity in that relationship that she could connect to right away. “I don’t know if this is lame, but I used to write letters to [Ria],” she says bashfully. I love hearing about an actor’s method of finding their characters, so I encourage her to share more. “Oh, I also did the playlist thing. That was really fun!” she adds. The playlist, Kansara shares, consisted of pump-up female-empowerment tunes and kung fu fighting songs from movie soundtracks. “[They’re] songs that basically make you feel like the main character of a film because she thinks she’s the main character of her life,” she says.
Ria definitely gives off main-character energy, but at the heart of the film lies the relationship between Ria and her older sister and biggest champion, Lena, played by Ritu Arya (The Umbrella Academy). Their close bond is the catalyst for Ria’s ambitious heist attempt and one of the film’s most exciting fight scenes. For anyone who has a sister, or sibling for that matter, the love-hate dynamic between Ria and Lena is very relatable and played out brilliantly by Kansara and Arya. Kansara feels so lucky with how easily she and Arya clicked from the get-go. “That’s so nice, to be able to develop that kind of a friendship and bond with somebody whilst doing this. And I think it also really helped make that relationship more authentic once we were filming,” she says.
Kansara couldn’t have asked for a better entry into film than Polite Society. From getting to step inside the world of such a fun and dynamic character to building the relationship with Arya, who she counts as a sister now, to getting a new perspective on stunt work, it was the ultimate crash course in acting. And to have Manzoor, who was also making her feature-film directorial debut, at the helm? It was a dream collaboration.
“Nida is incredible,” Kansara says. “She is not just a brilliant writer and director. She has such a strong vision, and that, too, is such an original, fresh, fun vision. She allows everyone to have a space that they can play in, to figure their own thing out, to add to this vision, and she doesn’t just do that with the cast, but with the whole crew. … I have not been in this position before, especially to be Ria, to play the lead. That can be a lot of pressure in itself whether it’s your first or 57th time. But Nida didn’t make me feel nervous at all. She consistently empowered me and consistently made me feel safe. She’s also just a hoot to work with, and we just had so much fun.”
Set up for success and already on the fast track, Kansara is excited about what the future holds for her in this industry. The world seems vast, and there’s so much out there for her to try still. Whether that’s going down the fantasy route, doing more drama, or testing different mediums, she’s keeping her options open. The goal is to continue to push herself to see what she’s capable of. “I never thought I could do comedy, and here we are today,” she says. At this point, the opportunities seem endless.
Polite Society is in theaters nationwide.