‘Hard-hitting yet inspirational film’

‘Hard-hitting yet inspirational film’

Arnab Banerjee
In To Kill a Tiger, director Nisha Pahuja captures a compelling tale of injustice and resilience in rural Jharkhand. With evocative cinematography and a stirring score, this Netflix-distributed film is a powerful call to action, challenging viewers to stand against deep-seated injustices and fight for what’s right.

To Kill a Tiger

Writer and Director: Nisha Pahuja

Producer: David Oppenheim, Nisha Pahuja, Cornelia Principe

Cinematography: Mrinal Desai

Editor: Dave Kazala, Mike Munn

Duration: 2 hrs 7 minutes

Music: Jonathan Goldsmith

Distributor: Netflix

Available on Netflix

On the one hand, the much-acclaimed documentary To Kill a Tiger, directed by Nisha Pahuja, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, is a  hard-hitting film about a 13-year-old girl Kiran who is gangraped in the small sleepy village Bero in Jharkhand. On the other hand, it chronicles a father Ranjit’s fight for justice and his family’s struggle to fight the legal battle that follows.

The innocent Kiran who attends a wedding reception in the neighbourhood stays late playing with three other friends when a gang of three men Kapil Munda, Iswar Munda and Lungru Munda of their village forcibly take her away and gangrape her. It’s rather late and most people are asleep. Kiran musters enough courage to fight them off but gets overpowered by the older and stronger men. When she returns home late, and shares her trauma with Ranjit and her mother Jaganti, they are shocked beyond words. The next morning Ranjit and his wife lodge a complaint with a local administrator known as Mukhiya who suggests that the victim be married off to one of the rapists. The outrageously appalling solution that is not uncommon in some parts of the country.

It is often recommended with an implied resolution to restore the girl’s honour. The documentary focusses on the plight of the harassed family and holds a mirror to the regressive minds of the dyed-in-the-wool unreceptive society in which they live. The rich and the powerful of course who support the three assailants have one agenda: force the father to agree to a compromise and drop the charges against them.

If that sounds bizarre and unprecedented for some of us living in cities, the stand that the father takes is exceptional for despite the odds being stacked against him, he, with his modest earnings, refuses to give up his pursuit of justice for his daughter. Determined to see the men behind bars, he takes a resolute stand to take on whosoever opposes him.

Thankfully for him, two social rights activists stand next to him and support him unconditionally. Perhaps, it is his own strength of mind and fortitude that prompts the two activists to boost his morale all the more. He is also fortunate to have tremendous backing, help and encouragement from all those who matter. At a time when nearly all the men and women in the village believe in hushing up the heinous crime and instead of putting the men on trial, getting the girl married to one of them, it is the counsellors who lend a helping hand and offer the best advice.

What sets Ranjit apart from multiple harried fathers is his unwavering and steadfast resolve to, somehow, get his daughter lawful and fair legitimacy of her being. Unfazed, he carries on the fight to its finish even when he is threatened with dire consequences, and is intimidated, ostracised and bullied as his and his family’s life is endangered.

The trial that takes more than 14 months exposes the fragile and shaky legal system – more for the unlettered, the weak and the hapless deprived and underprivileged with meagre income – that could take months and even years to come to its logical conclusion. In most cases, even the ones with wealth and political power who have several means of mobilising strength could break their backs and exhaust themselves. At times, the help and moral support from some well-wishers is either short-lived or camouflaged in a way that it looks uncertain and ambiguous.

To Kill a Tiger is the kind of film that ends with a finality, and that conclusiveness is irrevocable. Needless to add, it is also very inspirational and could serve as therapeutic.

In a country where rapes are common, and in 2022 alone, 38,911 cases of child rape and penetrative assaults were reported, the film must urge and exhort authorities to spring into action and take great care to provide a safe environment for the naïve children. In a way, it educates many of us that the aftermath of a physical assault on a female living in a city is very different from a similar molestation or violation on a girl child living in a small town or village.

To Kill a Tiger, was honoured with a nomination for Best Documentary Feature at the 96th Academy Awards in March 2024. Though it lost, it won several other awards, including the New York Indian Film Festival 2023 and the Directors Guild of Canada Award 2024.

It takes a lot of nerve and mental and emotional valour to fight a lone battle, and Ranjit proves that though a tiger cannot be killed single-handedly, it is only on the strengths of one’s conviction that victory can be achieved as he does it!