Nisha Pahuja’s To Kill a Tiger Shortlisted for a Win

Nisha Pahuja’s latest documentary, “To Kill A Tiger,” has achieved something remarkable by earning a spot on the shortlist for Best Documentary Feature at the 2024 Oscars. The film, which had its premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, offers an intimate look at a family in rural India seeking justice after their 13-year-old daughter is sexually assaulted.

Following its premiere, “To Kill A Tiger” received widespread praise from critics and audiences alike. It went on to win TIFF’s Amplify Voices Award for Best Canadian Feature Film, an impressive achievement for a documentary. After a successful theatrical run in North America, the film now finds itself among the finalists for documentary film’s biggest honour at the 96th Academy Awards on March 10th in Los Angeles.

The documentary, while focused on a single family’s journey, tackles universal themes of rape culture, women’s rights, and the courage required to challenge societal norms. It’s brought to life by a talented team including executive producers like Dev Patel, Mindy Kaling and Rupi Kaur. According to TIFF’s description, the film captures love on film brilliantly through the father’s fierce protection of his daughter. It’s this profound exploration of the human spirit that has resonated so strongly from India to Hollywood.

As “To Kill A Tiger” competes for the Oscars, it showcases director Nisha Pahuja’s talents while shining a light on critical social issues. The film’s path from TIFF to the Academy Awards shortlist demonstrates its ability to transcend borders, delivering a powerful narrative that resonates universally. Regardless of the final outcome, this documentary has already achieved something special.

The Plot

In a small village in rural India, 13-year-old Pooja attends a family wedding one evening but never returns home. After frantic searching, she is found dishevelled and traumatized, having been dragged into the woods and sexually assaulted by three men known to her family.

Pooja’s father, Ranjit, immediately goes to the police and the perpetrators are soon arrested. At first, Ranjit feels a sense of relief that justice will be served. But this hope quickly fades when the rest of the village, including its leaders, demands he drop the charges. They insist Pooja marry one of her attackers, believing this is the only way to restore the family’s honour and standing in the community.

Ranjit boldly defies these demands, determined to seek proper justice for his daughter through India’s convoluted court system. In doing so, he embarks on a perilous journey that places him at odds with many in his village. His choice is practically unheard of in this region, where rape is rampant but conviction rates are less than 30 percent.

Ranjit’s stand catches the attention of a local NGO called Srijan Foundation, which works to educate men and boys about women’s rights. They see Ranjit as an ideal example of a father standing up for his abused daughter. But as the trial progresses, their presence and the film crew documenting Ranjit’s story fuel anger amongst the villagers. Ostracized and facing threats of violence, Ranjit struggles to withstand the pressure as the trial gets underway.

With remarkable access, the documentary charts the tumultuous emotional journey of an ordinary father dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Ranjit’s love for Pooja compels him to persevere, sparking a reckoning that will resonate through his community for years. His courage to challenge the status quo sets an inspiring example for others.


Andrew Parker described the documentary as an unflinching personal work with raw power. He said it has the potential to deeply impact viewers by guiding them towards greater understanding. Parker suggested that those who watch will undergo a transformative experience.

Film critic Janet Smith praised “To Kill a Tiger” for providing an intimate look at daily village life. She noted how the camera lingers on quiet scenes like Ranjit’s daughter intricately braiding ribbons in her hair, or the family cooking roti over an open fire and tending to their goats. Smith also highlighted the community’s push for a forced marriage to “remove the stain” of the assault, emphasizing their troubling perspective. 

Critic Thom Ernst named it Nisha Pahuja’s best film yet, praising its compassionate storytelling and bravery. The film has also earned acclaim from comedian Mindy Kaling, who urged everyone to see this “triumph.”

Peter Sobczynski on rogerebert.com wrote that “To Kill a Tiger” doesn’t rely on flashy cinematography or complex storytelling devices. Instead, Nisha Pahuja focuses on communicating the narrative directly and clearly. Though some may not consider it highly artistic, the documentary is steadfast in its aim to challenge the toxic mindsets that have exacerbated hardships for women like Kiran. Even when depicting distressing events, Pahuja closes the film on a genuinely uplifting note. The straightforward approach allows the documentary’s core message to resonate powerfully.

James Mackin of CityNews awarded four stars, calling it a poignant exploration of persevering against long odds. Despite community opposition, Ranjit’s family manages to stay in the village as they pursue justice. Mackin deemed it an emotionally charged must-watch.

Overall, reviewers highlighted the film’s candid look at daily life, its refusal to shy away from difficult themes, and its power to enlighten audiences. Many agreed this was Pahuja’s most impactful work to date.

Other Candidates

This year’s Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Feature showcases an incredibly competitive and diverse field. Among the contenders is Matthew Heineman’s “American Symphony,” which intimately explores musician Jon Batiste and earned recognition across multiple Oscar categories including Score, Song, and now Documentary.

The shortlist contains several festival favourites like the Sundance winners “The Eternal Memory,” “A Still Small Voice,” “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” and “Beyond Utopia.” There’s also the timely Ukrainian documentary “20 Days in Mariupol.” In an interesting twist, Tunisia’s “Four Daughters” and Morocco’s “The Mother of All Lies” both made the International Feature shortlist, but only the former cracked the doc shortlist too.

In total, this year’s selection features films spanning the globe, making it one of the most internationally inclusive shortlists in recent memory.

There are some notable returning faces in the mix as well. Past winner David Guggenheim is back with another environmental doc, though the industry doesn’t often reward repeat winners. There’s also a sentimental contender in the late Nancy Buirski’s “Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy.”

Oscar winner Ben Proudfoot returns after his previous shorts victory for “The Queen of Basketball.” This time he’s in contention alongside collaborator Kris Bowers for “The Last Repair Shop.” And Justine Martine joins the shorts list with her poetic “Oasis.”

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