Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

Pakistani worker flown in for premiere of first documentary about UAE labour camps

Pakistani man and six other workers will take to the red carpet of a docufilm on the annual labour camp singing competition, Champ of the Camp.
Radhey Shyam, from Nepal, takes to stage during the first round of auditions of this year's Camp ka Champ in August. Satish Kumar / The National
Radhey Shyam, from Nepal, takes to stage during the first round of auditions of this year's Camp ka Champ in August. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // Adnan Zaheed, 28, can barely believe he will get to see himself singing Bollywood songs on the big screen.

The Pakistani is flying in from Islamabad to relive his singing days in Dubai at Saturday’s premiere of a much-awaited documentary, Champ of the Camp.

Mr Zaheed is among six contestants from last year’s Western Union Camp ka Champ – an annual singing contest for the UAE’s labourers – invited to watch the premiere at Burj Park as part of the Dubai International Film Festival.

“I feel good that I will be watching myself sing,” said Mr Zaheed, who now works at a factory in the Pakistani capital. “I cannot believe they made a film on singers like me.”

He is one of the workers followed in the documentary, which takes the English translation of the competition as its title, as he rehearses Bollywood numbers.

The film shows him training outside the Burj Khalifa, where his duties included overseeing the fitting of doors and windows.

“They filmed me in my room, where I used to practise for the concert,” said Mr Zaheed, who is due in Dubai on Friday.

“They also shot me in the park opposite Burj Khalifa and at work, where I used to keep singing while I was busy.

“I have always hummed a tune while I worked. I love Indian songs.”

Dubai International Film Festival paid for Mr Zaheed’s flight and visa to see the screening of the documentary, produced by Veritas Films and directed by Lebanon’s Mahmoud Kaabour. The other five workers who feature in the movie still live and work in the UAE.

Camp ka Champ was launched in 2007 exclusively for labourers. Organised by Dubai-based Right Track Advertising, the talent competition seeks people who can sing in a language of their choice.

This year’s winners were two Indian workers who beat 3,000 entrants from 80 labour camps.

Kaabour’s film is the first feature-length documentary shot in the labour camps of the UAE.

It captures the daily lives of workers and their efforts to provide for their loved ones back home. It also shows them rehearsing enthusiastically for the contest after their hard, manual labour.

Rajesh Kumar Bharti, 32, a helper at a car company, also features in the film.

“We leave our families behind to work in the Gulf,” he said. “If this film is seen widely, people will know how hard life is here, how people work, where they sleep and will understand what to do and what not to do in the Gulf.”

Mr Bharti said the documentary brought tears to his eyes. “I was invited to see the film last month. I never thought I’ll see myself on the big screen,” he said.

Bangladeshi Mohammed Ashraful, 25, a CCTV operator at Dulsco, a human-resources company, will take time off to watch the documentary.

“I am very excited to see the film,” said Mr Ashraful, who has taken part in Camp ka Champ every year since it began.

“This is the first time I’ve sang in a film. It is a great chance for singers like us. I hope it can help us get a professional chance to sing.

“I believe over 2,000 people will come to view the film. I want to see the audience’s reaction.”

The filmmakers said they invited the workers to the Dubai premiere because they were an essential part of the documentary.

“It is very important they be there,” said Eva Sayre, the producer of Champ of the Camp.

“The film is about giving them a voice, taking their lives and making them heroes. It would be wrong to celebrate without them.”


Updated: December 5, 2013 04:00 AM