Acclaimed Documentary ’20 Days in Mariupol’ Outshines ‘To Kill a Tiger’ for Top Oscar Award

The 2024 Academy Awards observed a fierce competition in the Best Feature Documentary category, ultimately awarding the honor to Ukrainian filmmaker Mstyslav Chernov for his compelling work ’20 Days in Mariupol’, overshadowing Delhi-born Canadian filmmaker Nisha Pahuja’s ‘To Kill a Tiger’. Despite high hopes and critical acclaim, Pahuja’s film, which is now available on Netflix for a global audience, did not clinch the coveted Oscar statue.

‘To Kill a Tiger’ presents the gripping narrative of an Indian father’s relentless pursuit of justice following the brutal gang-rape of his daughter. Set against the rural backdrop of Jharkhand, the documentary follows the painful yet courageous journey of Ranjit, a farmer, who embarks on a legal fight for his 13-year-old daughter, Kiran. The young girl’s life was forever altered when she survived a heinous sexual assault by three men in 2017, sparking not only a personal quest for justice but also igniting a conversation around women’s safety in India.

Nisha Pahuja, whose portfolio of impactful films includes the Emmy-nominated ‘The World Before Her’, the feature ‘Bollywood Bound’, and the docuseries ‘Diamond Road’, has once again demonstrated her prowess in storytelling with ‘To Kill a Tiger’. Her empathetic lens captures the resilience of a family standing against societal pressures and a flawed justice system.

Produced by Notice Pictures and co-produced alongside the National Film Board of Canada, the documentary has not gone unnoticed in the film circuit. Prior to its Academy Award nomination, it received the prize for Best Canadian Film at the 2022 Toronto Film Festival, and further enhanced its trophy case with the best documentary award at the Palm Springs Film Festival.

The film delicately balances the personal trauma of the survivors and the larger systemic issues at play, providing a nuanced view of the obstacles faced by women and their families in rural India. Pahuja’s deft direction guides the audience through intimate moments and courtrooms episodes alike, stitching together a narrative that is as heart-wrenching as it is inspirational.

Although ‘To Kill a Tiger’ did not emerge victorious at the Oscars, its success and critical recognition emphasize the importance and power of documentary filmmaking as a medium to spotlight social issues and encourage discourse. Pahuja’s work, particularly in the realm of documentaries with social justice themes, underscores the genre’s capability to move beyond mere storytelling, challenging viewers to confront difficult realities and question long-standing societal constructs.

The documentary arena often serves as a platform to highlight underrepresented stories and marginalized voices. ’20 Days in Mariupol’ and ‘To Kill a Tiger’ are prime examples of documentaries that not only perform this role but also excel in artistic storytelling, creating visceral and enduring impressions upon their audiences. While the spotlight of the Oscars shone on Chernov’s ’20 Days in Mariupol’ this year, Pahuja’s ‘To Kill a Tiger’ stands tall as a testament to the strength and perseverance of survivors and advocates who fight for justice against all odds.

With its Oscar journey now complete, the film’s legacy lies in its impact on individuals and societies. As streaming platforms such as Netflix make this poignant story accessible globally, the documentary is poised to continue inspiring conversations around gender-based violence and the unwavering quest for justice. Pahuja’s ‘To Kill a Tiger’ may not have claimed the Oscar, but its powerful message resonates deeply, echoing in the collective consciousness of viewers around the world.

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