I never knew who Mohinder Dhillon was but I knew his son Sam Dhillon, whom I had previously worked with on a few projects. Later when I met Mohinder is when it hit me that he is Sam’s father. Their resemblance was quite striking. I was editing Mohinder’s biography documentary that he narrated himself. I first met him when he came to view the first cut. I was immensely touched and drawn to his story since it’s one of those ‘from rags to riches’ kind of stories but one which is filled with eventful and harrowing tales that leave you believing that he is a man gifted with 9 lives like those of a cat. So when I first saw him, I instantly felt affectionate towards him since he shared his story so intimately and with so much grace that I grew so fond of his humility.
Mohinder originally migrated to Kenya with his family from Punjab India. With only basic education, he did not have any qualifications to secure a job in Kenya back in the 90’s. You would think that getting a job back then was easy but from his narration, it was tougher than our current times. After tarmacking for months on end, frustrated and hopeless, Mohinder grew wary as there was no hope for him in Kenya. To keep him busy, his beloved father bought him a box brownie (vintage camera) to distract him from feeling helpless and hopeless. At last he found something that he loved. Understanding how to use his box brownie became his muse and with that his photography work stood out.
With time, Mohinder’s reputation and work was heard and seen all over the world. Reputable journalists like Jon Snow chose him as his partner when it came to documenting stories. Together they had the luxury of traveling the world and interacting with some African Presidents like Idi Amin whom he (Mohinder) describes in his documentary and book as an okay man far from the chilling stories we have heard or have been made to believe. In his book Mohinder says, “My relationship with the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was perhaps the most bizarre association of all. I tell people I felt safe near AMIN and they do not believe me.”
Some of the events that he filmed more than 30 years ago still haunt him to-date. One being the Ethiopian famine in 1984 where he had to film wasted flesh of starving and hungry children. Till this day, he still has nightmares despite his attempts to help the best way he could.
The cameramen of my generation might not have heard or known about him but I wish to thank him for writing his three part journey. He has given us the opportunity to read about his legacy and his tenacity of telling a story through the lens while dodging bullets and other life threatening situations he encountered throughout his career.
Mohinder is a cameraman extraordinaire; humanitarian; lover of life and a noble being. As he says in his book, “I have lived a life of my choice.”
Bravo Mohinder… Bravo!
P.S : If you want to know more about this great man and his work, then grab a copy of his three part book, here you will read about his relationship with our first President the late Jomo Kenyatta and several African leaders like President Mugabe, Ethiopia’s Emperor Haille Selassie, Julius Nyerere and how he (Mohinder) survived a fall from a helicopter crash in the slopes of Kilimanjaro.
Photography by Shaq