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Nisha Pahuja, wearing a black 3/4 sleeve top and black-framed glasses, sitting on a chair at a corner next to potted plants in front of large windows, with sunlight flooding the room
Nisha Pahuja. Photo by Polina Teif

Fighting for Justice

In her latest documentary, filmmaker Nisha Pahuja tackles a most difficult topic – sexual assault

Nisha Pahuja (BA 1994 UTM) has always had a passion for storytelling. An independent filmmaker, she has produced and directed four feature documentaries. Her latest, To Kill a Tiger, tells the story of Ranjit, a farmer in India who fights for justice after his 13-year-old daughter is sexually assaulted by a group of men. The film won TIFF’s Amplify Voices Award for the Best Canadian Feature Film and Best Documentary at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

How did you become a documentary filmmaker?
Nearly 25 years ago, a friend introduced me to a producer who was making a documentary about arranged marriages in the South Asian community. They were looking for a researcher with connections to the community. I had no experience, I didn’t know much about documentaries or filmmaking, but I was hired. I fell in love with the creative aspect of it and the socio-political commentary inherent to so many docs. I also loved how collaborative it was.

What is most important to you when producing creative work?
It’s always the “why.” It’s the deepest question and it’s what drives me. To Kill a Tiger is a simple story about the pursuit of justice, but while I was making it, I was asking why the men did what they did to this child.

How do you choose your documentary subjects?
I get ideas all the time, but it’s the ones that keep you up at night or have many layers that take root.

What was most challenging about making To Kill a Tiger?
Filming a child rape survivor was tough. I didn’t have training and I was very conscious of not retraumatizing her. It was about finding the balance between being sensitive to her and sharing the details of the story, while at the same time knowing what we were capturing had the potential to benefit more people.

It’s a difficult story. How did you deal with it personally?
My meditation practice keeps me grounded. My husband does, too.

What do you want viewers to take away from this film?
Two things: appreciation for this family and what they went through, and a sense that change is possible.

What advice do you have for aspiring documentarians?
Know yourself. You have to have a burning desire to follow this path. It’s not to say you can’t make a living at it; you can. But it’s hard work and passion needs to drive it.

Fascination with the world and the people in it

Recommended book
Ulysses by James Joyce

Favourite film
Moonlight by Barry Jenkins

Fun pastime
I do yoga, which is wonderful.

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