Xuhaib Maqbool Hamza holds a broken camera in his hands and says: “I have two blurred lenses. This one in my hand and another in my body.” Four years ago, the photojournalist was in the middle of covering a protest in Kashmir, when a pellet fire from a member of the security personnel pierced his body and eyes, permanently altering the way he viewed the world, through his camera’s viewfinder as well as the naked eye.
Malayali documentary filmmaker Gopal Menon’s latest work The Broken Camera tells the story of that dark day and how he managed to get back to photography. The film has now been selected to be screened at the Australia-based My Rode Reel International Short Film Festival that attracts entries from across the world.
In the film, Mr. Hamza recounts the events of September 4, 2016, when he saw a policeman coming towards him with a pellet gun. He had raised his camera as well as his press card to signal that he is a photojournalist out to perform his duty. Yet, a minute later, he found himself reeling on the ground with a body ridden with pellets all the way from the knees to the head. He has had two major surgeries till date, but after the latest one his doctors told him that he could not expect further improvement in his eye. His retina was torn.
“For me, this is a part of an ongoing project. I have been documenting the issues in Kashmir since 1998. In 2000, I had made a film called Papa 2, on the enforced disappearances of civilians. During that time, I had also made another documentary titled Wounded Valley. Since 2016, I have been working on another Kashmir-based project. Hamza’s story, which was part of that project, was turned into this short film,” says Mr. Menon
Before he lost his eye, Mr. Hamza, in addition to being a news photographer, was also an acclaimed nature photographer, fashion photographer, and a radio jockey. The short film also chronicles his painful return to photography. His friends inspired him to buy a new camera, with which he began shooting commercial projects. Following the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in 2019, he came out on the streets to shoot photographs again, from the initial days of people’s protests against the move. “This project is all about how I see with the left eye. This is the perspective of the pellet victims. These images are horrifying,” he says.