To Kill A Tiger

To Kill A Tiger

In a small Indian village, Ranjit wakes up to find that his 13-year-old daughter has not returned from a family wedding. A few hours later, she’s found stumbling home. After being abducted into the woods, she was sexually assaulted by three men. Ranjit goes to the police, and the men are arrested. But Ranjit’s relief is short-lived, as the villagers and their leaders launch a sustained campaign to force the family to drop the charges.

A cinematic documentary, To Kill a Tiger follows Ranjit’s uphill battle to find justice for his child. In India, where a rape is reported every 20 minutes and conviction rates are less than 30 percent, Ranjit’s decision to support his daughter is virtually unheard of. With tremendous access, we witness the emotional journey of an ordinary man facing extraordinary circumstances. A father whose love for his daughter forces a social reckoning that will reverberate for years to come.

To Kill a Tiger actually started off as an entirely different film. That film, Send  Us Your Brother, was a more pointed and direct exploration of Indian  masculinity. The focus of the original work was Mahendra Kumar, the  women’s rights activist who has a key albeit minor role in To Kill a Tiger.

Mahendra was leading a large-scale program in Jharkhand, where he and  other activists worked with men and boys to change their ideas on gender.  One of the men enrolled in that program was Ranjit.

As Ranjit’s story unfolded, I began to feel that his odyssey could serve as the  spine of the film, and that Mahendra’s work and his personal life would add a  larger context. Particularly compelling was the impact his work was having on two young boys, Ashish and Karan.

These storylines, with their own inherent richness and complexity, were meant to decode the “why” behind the tragic sexual assault at the centre of the film—an assault echoed over and over again in headlines that continually and numbingly come out of India. It’s a “why” that I’ve been grappling with as a filmmaker for over a decade. To understand how men and boys are created, specifically in Indian culture, was a way for me to cast light into shadows.

Letting Send Us Your Brother go so that this film could emerge was a gradual process. Editors Mike Munn and Dave Kazala and I felt strongly about the original approach, as did producers Cornelia Principe and David Oppenheim.

Eventually, however, we showed a five-hour assembly to two filmmakers we trust immensely: Manfred Becker and Nick Hector. Both agreed we had  more than one film in the material and that Ranjit’s story was far too dramatic  to share space with the others.

To pivot after years of work was difficult but also liberating. The beauty of the  new approach was its simplicity. By focusing on one story, we could paint a fuller picture of the other figures involved, namely the Ward Member, Ranjit’s wife Jaganti and, most significantly, his daughter Kiran.

Although she’s undoubtedly the victim of a brutal crime, Kiran is so much  more. Her 13-year-old body is the battleground upon which an epic and age-old battle is being fought, one that has to do with power, honour, community and justice.

In demanding her legal rights from her country, in effect she demands change, and she asks for the restoration of a much deeper moral order rooted in the precept of “do no harm.”

I would be remiss to bring up morality and not touch on the ethics of filming a survivor, and what’s more, a child. When I first heard about what happened to Kiran, I decided we would hide her identity—its what Indian law demands and unquestionably felt like the right thing to do.

As I got deeper into the story, however, it became clear that both Indian law and Indian culture were united in seeing the assault as a “shame” or “loss of honour” for the survivor. I started to feel that by not showing her, I was in fact perpetuating the very prejudice I was critiquing. But who was I to impose this view on a child, and especially a child from an incredibly vulnerable community?

In the edit, we tried several ways to hide her face but each, as beautifully executed as it was, extinguished her humanity. And so, as the years passed, I started broaching the subject of showing her.

All of us, including her parents, felt the final decision had to be hers and hers  alone. A few weeks later, Anita Kushwaha, intrepid sound recordist, flew to  Ranchi and showed the family the final cut of the film.

They Zoomed me once it was over, and as soon as I saw their faces, I knew.  The film was a record of a very painful time in their lives—but it also captured the immense love and strength of an exceptional family who had nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide. And so, Kiran agreed to be seen in the film. By now, she was 18 years old.

Her decision was deeply moving for all of us who worked on To Kill a Tiger. I  knew, however, that India might not be ready for such a bold statement from a  young woman. In a country where more than 90 percent of rapes are  unreported and less than 30 percent are successfully prosecuted, her  decision to come forward was an especially brave choice. I wanted to make  sure we pre-empted any possible fallout from that choice.

So, as a final act of caution, I am heeding the advice of Indian activists and  asking the media and members of the public to refrain from using her face in  any kind of coverage. It’s my hope that once you see the film, the desire to  guard her privacy beyond the film’s confines will feel like the absolute right  thing to do. It’s also my hope that collectively we empower her and support her healing as part of this film’s journey in the world—a journey with Impact at its heart, and one that’s being planned carefully and strategically with lawyers, documentary impact strategists, therapists and an advisory council made up of women’s rights and human rights organizations. The coalition we are building around her, and her family has the power to ignite a movement—one that encourages other survivors to come forward and men to stand with them.

To Kill a Tiger took eight years to make. It represents the amalgamation of many people’s creative talents and commitment to the story: composer Jonathan Goldsmith, mixer Lou Solakofski, music editor Jordan Kawai, assistant editor Pranay Nichani, story editor Manfred Becker, executive producer Anita Lee and producers David Oppenheim and Cornelia Principe.

To the NFB I owe a deep and abiding gratitude for supporting this long voyage and for their faith in me as a filmmaker. Thanks must also be given to Mala Gaonkar, Debbie McLeod and Madhu Raju for their generosity. And, of course, to our executive producers, notably Andy Cohen, Drew Dragoumis, Atul Gawande, Shivani Rawat, Anita Bhatia, Niraj Bhatia, Deepa Mehta, Priya Doraswamy and Samarth Sahni—all of them know what they’ve brought to this film and continue to bring to it.

To Dev Patel, Mindy Kaling and Rupi Kaur: thank you for coming on board as executive producers and for joining hands with all of us to ensure this story does what it can in the world.

Lastly, I must acknowledge four people on the team: editors Mike Munn and Dave Kazala, sound recordist Anita Kushwaha and my husband and DP,  Mrinal Desai. Their belief in this film and what it could be never wavered. We  were given a gift and we knew that we owed Ranjit and his family our very  best as creators and as people.

 

Nisha Pahuja
September, 2023

LIST

Limited Release Date: 

Friday, October 20 (New York @ Film Forum)

Expanded Release Date:

Los Angeles, October 26 @Laemmle Monica

Los Angeles, October 27-29 @Laemmle Royale

San Francisco, November 4 @The Roxie

WHO

Director and Writer:

Nisha Pahuja

 

Producers:

Nisha Pahuja, Cornelia Principe and David Oppenheim

 

Executive Producers:

Dev Patel, Mindy Kaling, Rupi Kaur, Andy Cohen, Atul Gawande, Andrew Dragoumis, Anita Lee, Shivani Rawat, Deepa Mehta, Samarth Sahni, Anita Bhatia, Priya Doraswamy and Niraj Bhatia

WHERE
Theaters to begin - Limited Release Dates
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