Over the past decade and a half, this migrant worker from Bangladesh has mesmerised the audience in South Korea with his prowess on the screen. Yet Bangladesh-born Korean superstar Mahbub Alam, also known as Mahbub Lee, holds the distinction of being unknown to many in his own land of birth.
For Mahbub, it was a long journey and rarely an easy one. When he migrated to South Korea in 1999 to fund his ailing mother's treatment in Bangladesh, little did this alumnus of Government Tolaram College in Narayanganj know what lay in store for him.
Thanks to his elder brother who was in Korea then, he got a job in a garment factory. Seven months later, his mother passed away in Bangladesh. While his elder brother returned to his home country, Mahbub chose to stay back. And his urge to protect fellow garment factory workers from exploitation in Korea prompted him to participate in social movements.
“I first came to Korea in 1999 and I worked in a textiles and garment factory, where my job involved pressing film covering onto the fabrics. It was hard work, using a lot of industrial chemicals,” Mahbub said in an interview with AsiaRights.
"At first, I wasn’t involved in any activism, but after about three years I started to do voluntary work in the Bangladeshi migrant community, taking up issues like industrial accidents and non-payment of wages. Many migrant workers in Korea work in very small firms, and their bosses sometimes cheat them out of their wages," he said.
"I became secretary of the Bangladesh Mutual Association, which dealt with these sorts of social problems. Then in 2002, the Migrant Workers Trade Union was established. It was organised under the umbrella of the Korean Confederation Trade Union. We started going to rallies, and I became busy in the Union, writing publicity material for them and so on.”
But Mahbub was quick to realise that stories of unjust treatment of garment workers in the South Korean apparel industry must surface in the mainstream media in order to drive a lasting change for them. So, he decided to test his luck at something new -- making documentary films on the plight of workers in the Korean garment industry.