Hafiz Sajeev was on a Kochi bus, watching the road outside. The bus had just climbed down the bridge from Edappally and was going to Palarivattom. A little ahead of the bus, on the side, was a man opening the door of his car, without looking if anyone was riding next to him. The door hit another man who was coming on a bike from behind. He lost his balance and fell on the road and the bus Hafiz was riding in would have run him over if the driver had not been careful.
Back home in Alappuzha, he asked his friend Anas – a guy he calls his “everything” – to come. Together they went out and created a photograph, capturing all that Hafiz had seen from the bus. In the car they placed Hafiz’s cousin Hasif opening the door while on the phone, least aware of a bike coming behind him. The photograph shows that one moment when it all goes wrong – the car door hitting the bike and the man losing his balance, the shocked expression on his face.
“It is in that nanosecond that most of the action is, that is what I try to get,” says Hafiz. His photographs had by then already become popular on Instagram. Hafiz realised that he could use photographs to convey a message, and that it would reach a lot more people if you used pictures to tell a story.
“Before that, the photographs were about capturing small moments – like the second that a biscuit falls into the tea or that moment of a sneeze. It was such a photo – of a brother and sister fighting and one of them throwing a pot at the other, with the pot in the air – that caught the attention of people. It suddenly became viral and that got me thinking. I began creating stories for the photos,” says Hafiz, who is all of 19.
He studies VFX Animation in Ernakulam, but for all his shooting, he comes home to Alappuzha. That’s where his ‘models’ are – Anas and Hafiz’s sister Hasna Fathima, a seventh grader. A photo of the two of them on a bike, the girl riding pillion and her dupatta getting caught in the wheels, is another one that won a lot of praise. “That was inspired by another real-life incident. It happened to one of my aunties who fell on the road when her dupatta got caught in the wheels. Luckily, she escaped unhurt. But it could have been bad,” Hafiz says.
When they shot this, the policemen in the neighbourhood had been helpful and some of them shared the photo on their personal pages. But surprisingly enough it is the Tamil Nadu police that first shares Hafiz’s photo on their official page. And then again, he got featured in faraway media – Telangana, Karnataka and even a paper in Vietnam! “Somehow, the photos got very little attention in Kerala, I don’t know why,” he laughs.
But he is not worried about the attention. Young Hafiz has already shot more of his ‘road safety’ series. A noticeable one is a short video – yes, he does that too – of a woman and a girl, presumably mother and daughter, walking together on the road and a man on a bike riding past them. He stops his bike, ties a handkerchief around his mouth, and asks the woman for directions. While she tells him that, he snatches her chain and rides away and she falls on the road. “That is again what happened to an old woman on the road. She tried to get the chain back from the snatcher and got injured. She died of the injuries.”
Hafiz also has other serious themes in mind – global warming and deforestation. He will also continue with his pet subject of capturing the small moments of life.
There are bigger moments too. A short video he shot shows his friend Anas crying inconsolably, after a heartbreak. Another very real story. Hafiz had to break up with his girlfriend who belonged to another religion. He wasn't able to take it well and there were months of depression to deal with. His Ummachi helped, and so did his photography. “It is she who named my Instagram handle Thrikkannan,” he says. 'Thrikkannan' means a man with three eyes, a man who sees what others don’t. In Hafiz’s case, his beloved DSLR becomes his third eye.
If you had forgotten he is only 19 after looking at his serious photography, Hafiz’s young voice and innocent narrations would help you remember. “I had begun taking photos with a Nokia 600 phone and then a small Nikon digital camera. My Uppa said he would buy me a DSLR if I passed Class X with a first class. But I got distinction and he still didn’t keep his word. So, in Class XI, I wouldn’t study much. This scared my parents and they said they wouldn’t go back on their word and I would get my DSLR if I scored well in Class XII.”
They kept their word and in the two years with his camera, so much has happened. “The next is a love story in a hospital,” Hafiz says dreamily.