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FILM REVIEW: Ali Baba

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FILM: Ali Baba
DIRECTOR: Randy Ang
SYNOPSIS: In 1997, journalist Augustine Pang broke the news of an illegal immigrant left for dead by his employer in the forested areas of Singapore. In a time when stories on migrant workers were still largely untold, journalists challenged the conventions in the newsroom.

This film is part of the 15 Shorts project and can be watched online through their website or Facebook page.


Review by Hubert Lawrence Yeo

Many of our nation’s buildings exist because they were built by foreign construction workers. One would think, considering Singapore’s status as a world-class metropolis and financial hub, that these workers would be held in esteem. Yet, they remain one of the most neglected groups in our society. They are often abused, mistreated, and easily dispensed by the people they work for. Without their willingness to contribute to the building of our famous landmarks, office buildings and homes, our society would be very different.

Ali Baba is a recount of how New Paper journalists (Michael Wang and Aaron Charles Mossadeg) broke the news of an illegal migrant construction worker in Singapore, Mohd Bashar (Dharmadasa DD) who was tossed into a remote drain by his employers and left to perish after injuring himself.

Besides portraying the heartlessness surrounding the treatment of this foreign worker by his employers, the film also highlights that society is also complicit when we wilfully look away from the issues plaguing migrant construction workers, so stark and blatant. The reaction of the then-editor of the New Paper (played by Mukkatira Ganapathy) to publishing the story clearly highlights this, fearing backlash and excessive media attention.

Foreign workers in Singapore lack a voice and Bashar’s futile cries for help in the wilderness may be seen to metaphorically suggest this. They often arrive in Singapore with a poor grasp of English and with no clear support, they fail to connect meaningfully with their employers and the people they meet on a daily basis. They are particularly susceptible to people who seek to cheat them – as stated towards the end of the film, ‘Ali Baba’ refers to the thieves who promise young men gainful employment overseas, and these young men often have no idea they are entering the country illegally. Migrant workers are reduced to subjects of mere commodification, regularly becoming victims of misinformation and duplicity.

Ali Baba is a call for attention – for us to express gratitude to the foreign construction workers we walk past on the street, and to speak against injustices we witness.


About 15 Shorts

15 Shorts is a collaboration between the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) and Blue3Asia. Fifteen film directors provide an alternative perspective to the nation-building narratives of the era; their films tell true stories of Singaporeans who performed powerful acts of selflessness between the 1970s and 1990s. These are slice-of-life stories that reveal how this human, giving side has always been a part of us.

In the spirit of giving, each director will dedicate his or her film to a charity in Singapore. Working with NVPC, the directors have curated a list of charities that cover a spectrum of needs, including support for the elderly, people with autism, and migrant workers.


About The Director’s Chosen Organisation

HealthServe is a non-profit organisation that seeks to meet the needs of migrant workers in Singapore through the provision of medical care, casework, counselling, social assistance, education, and research. It is dedicated to its vision of creating a society where every migrant worker lives a life of dignity. Since their first clinic opened in 2007, HealthServe has helped over 15,000 low-wage migrant construction workers. If you wish to donate money in order to help HealthServe continue its work to help migrant construction workers in Singapore, please visit this link.

HealthServe is currently in need of Bengali speakers who would be able to come in once a week to help follow-up with injured workers, as well as medical professionals who are able to commit to at least one clinic session a month. If you are interested to lend a hand in any capacity, you can find more information by clicking on this link.

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