Shocking Family Fight for Justice After Daughter’s Tragedy: ‘To Kill a Tiger’ Exposed!

Nisha Pahuja’s poignant documentary, “To Kill a Tiger,” provides an unsparing examination of a father’s relentless pursuit of justice after his 13-year-old daughter is kidnapped and sexually assaulted by three men in a remote Indian village. Pahuja, the director behind the 2012 News & Documentary Emmy-nominated documentary, “The World Before Her,” describes the process of making this film as one of the most challenging experiences she has ever faced.

“You understand that your camera is serving as a shield for the family and that you’re recording an event that is part of a necessary transformation,” she expresses. “However, you also feel a sense of guilt for contributing to the disintegration of community bonds since that culture is deeply ingrained in the collective. You’re aware that you’re acting for the overall good, but there’s also tension due to the disruption of something deeply significant.”

The adverse attention on the village unsettled many within the community. Some suggested that the girl should marry one of her attackers, a common cultural approach to restore a victim’s honor, and that her father should abandon the allegations.

The Indian-born Canadian filmmaker discussed her film, which is up for a documentary feature Oscar, with The Envelope via a Zoom conversation.

Your film has been recognized with over 20 awards to date. How did you come across its subjects?

About eight years ago, I was working on a different film that followed the efforts of the Center for Health and Social Justice, an institution that conducts gender sensitization programs for men and boys. One of the men registered in this program was Ranjit. When I heard about the terrible incident that befell his daughter and the repercussions of the assaults, I started tracking his story.

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In your film, the trust between Ranjit, his daughter, Kiran (a pseudonym), and you is striking. How did you manage to create that connection with the family?

Under normal circumstances, you meet the participants before starting a documentary. However, in this case, my first meeting with Ranjit and his family was with a camera in hand. They kindly and generously allowed us to film, but it took several months for them to truly feel comfortable with us. One of the major challenges was maneuvering the intricacy of what we were filming, including issues of consent, informed consent, and the best way to portray the survivor. This was a delicate balance, but we made sure to involve the family in all our decisions.

How many people were on your team during the filming?

Primarily it was me, the director of photography, who was often my husband, Mrinal Desai, our sound recordist, and our driver. Occasionally, we had an assistant for complex shoots like the days we filmed community members, but mainly it was the core team of three people.

At some point, you considered using animation or facial replacement technology to protect Kiran’s identity. Why did you ultimately decide against these options?

Initially, we thought about filming her in a more abstract manner. But it felt somewhat unethical to film her differently from the others, as though we were inadvertently suggesting she had done something wrong. We consciously decided to find a way to conceal her identity in post-production. During the three-year editing process, we tried several techniques, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it all felt off. By concealing her identity, I felt like I was perpetuating this notion [of blame]. As the film took so long to make, Kiran became an adult during its production, and she decided that she wanted to be seen in it. When we presented the final cut to her and her parents, they all agreed to include her.

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Kiran was incredibly proud of herself and her accomplishments, which is why she chose to come forward. Kiran is truly an exceptional young woman. To display that level of courage and self-esteem at 13 is very unique. It’s about understanding your worth as a human being and knowing that you are entitled to justice. Kiran has now left the village and plans to work as a police officer.

“To Kill a Tiger” boasts an impressive roster of executive producers, including actors Dev Patel and Mindy Kaling, poet Rupi Kaur and surgeon and bestselling author Atul Gawande. How did you manage to gather such a notable group?

Atul Gawande was one of the first people who got involved and he also introduced it to Mindy Kaling. They all wanted to participate after they saw cuts of the film because they believed in its message. However, when I showed the early versions to people in India, everyone said that they thought it was a beautiful film, but that no one would watch it. I couldn’t accept that I had spent eight years telling this story for it to go unseen. I knew that in order for this film to reach a wider audience, I needed to involve individuals who are in the limelight and who could raise its profile everywhere.

Can you discuss the impact of the documentary?

This case has sparked much discussion and has inspired other survivors to come forward, but the problem is far from resolved. We’re dealing with a broken system and a culture where misogyny and patriarchy are deeply entrenched in every aspect of life. There’s still so much work to be done, and we hope that the film can inspire more significant change. The film hasn’t been shown in India, but we undoubtedly have plans to release it there. Moreover, there’s a sort of fatigue with the issue of sexual violence in India, as it’s so common. After the 2012 Delhi gang rape, the issue received a lot of attention, which was deserved, but I think there’s a sense of exhaustion now. Our film is unique in that it highlights the importance of men standing up for their daughters and the women in their lives, which is incredibly rare and unusual.

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