Oscars: <I>To Kill a Tiger</I> director Nisha Pahuja
Marc Loftus
February 21, 2024

Oscars: To Kill a Tiger director Nisha Pahuja

Notice Pictures’ To Kill a Tiger is one of five nominees in the Best Documentary Feature Film category for the 96th Academy Awards. In the documentary, Indian farmer Ranjit takes on the fight of his life when he demands justice for his 13-year-old daughter, who is the survivor of sexual assault. Rape in India is extremely common, and the conviction rate is less than 30 percent. Ranjit’s decision to support his daughter is virtually unheard of, and his journey unprecedented.

Director Nisha Pahuja (pictured) shares the nomination with Cornelia Principe and David Oppenheim, and recently shared insight into the making of the feature, which is presented in Hindi, with subtitles.

“It took us eight years to bring this story to life,” notes Pahuja. “It started off as a documentary that was going to look into the issue of masculinity in India and following the work of the activist Mahinder Ji, whose nonprofit ran a three-and-a-half-year gender sensitization program with boys and men in 30 villages across the state of Jharkhand.”

Ranjit was enrolled in the program and that’s how Pahuja learned about the incident and started to follow the family. 

“Initially, the idea was to have multiple storylines, and Kiran was just going to be a small part of it,” she explains. “Two years into the edit, we realized the potential Kiran’s story carried to create societal transformation both in India and abroad, and I am so thankful that we took the risk and pivoted.”

The film took three-and-a-half years to shoot, working mostly with a three-member crew, which included Pahuja, a DOP and a sound recordist.

“It was an intimate setting and everyone came from a place of compassion,” she explains. “Very soon we understood how brave and courageous Kiran and the family were to stand up to the village and seek justice against all odds.”
Pahuja says the team used a drone some shots, and a make-shift slider for others. Her monitor didn’t arrive until well into the shoot.

“It was hard to be a bystander to all the humiliation and disrespect the family had to face in the village or at courts,” she says of the experience. “But throughout it all, Kiran stood undeterred by her decision to pursue justice. To have that clarity and determination all at the age of 13 was purely remarkable. That’s why I always say that this story chose us and she chose us  - and for that, all of us must thank her and this family, and even the community they come from. From this deeply regrettable situation, we have so much to learn, including that change is possible and must be fought for.”

Pahuja’s team consisted of long-time collaborators, and throughout the course of the edit, she worked with two editors. 

“The first was Dave Kazala, who I have known for a very long time, nearly 20 years,” she notes. “And he has worked on a lot of films related to India, so he understood the nuances very well. The other editor, Mike Munn, was brilliant in his own way. I remember a time when we went back and forth about the pacing of the film and no matter what, it felt as if we were going too fast and that’s when Mike told me that we will cut based on Ranjit’s rhythm. Up until then, it was as if we weren’t honoring Ranjit’s pace, and it felt off and once we changed that, it all felt natural.”

The documentary runs 127 minutes and is currently seeking US distribution.