‘Serving people has become the mission of my life,’ says actor Sonu Sood
A year after the first lockdown, the actor speaks about how the humanitarian work he did last year changed the course of his life
It seems like most Indians know Sonu Sood personally. The actor’s Twitter timeline stands as testimony to this statement.
Whether it is two-year-old Sampurna Rao’s parents from Mallela in Andhra Pradesh, 36-year-old Mahaveer Kamble from Sangli in Maharashtra or Pappu Yadav, a teenager from Gadwa in Bihar, each one of them is among thousands of Indians who have either met Sonu or spoken with him at some point in their lives. He isn’t just a film star to them, he is family. Sonu has not just touched the lives of these people, he is responsible for significant change in their lives. Whether it is the treatment of an illness, a surgery or funding their medicines, the actor has supported them as a true messiah.
It all started exactly a year ago, when India was under the first lockdown, and everything had come to a standstill. Suddenly, thousands of migrant labourers emerged from different nooks and corners of the country. Most of them were walking miles together to reach home, while others huddled together by the highways hoping for someone to help them reach home. It was during this critical humanitarian crisis that Sonu emerged as a true saviour.
From arranging food, accommodation and transport to even flying some of them by air to reach their destinations, Sonu pulled out all stops to ensure they reached home. “I believed it was my duty to help those people who were on the roads, who were struggling to go back to their homes, who were waiting for one helping hand. I am grateful I got a chance to help them — people stuck in different parts of the country, andalsomany who were stuck in different parts of the world,” recalls Sonu, over a Zoom call.
Although Sonu’s humanitarian work began by helping those displaced during the 2019 Bihar floods and supporting acid attack survivors, it was only last year during the lockdown that his work came into the spotlight, and it was a moment of realisation for the actor. Since then, Sonu hasn’t slowed down, he continues to be accessible to thousands of Indians across the country, for different humanitarian reasons.
He says, “During the process last year, I also got involved in getting people medically treated, and solving some of their (livelihood) problems. It’s become a part of my life now, and I am learning every day.” Perhaps this is one of the reasons he started the Sood Charity Foundation in January this year. “I just pray to stay (physically) strong and (mentally) motivated and focused so that I stay connected with these people and help them for as long as I can and in whatever way I can. This has become the mission of my life,” he says.
This has paved the way for Sonu to emerge as the ideal ambassador for brands. Some of these brands are just thanking the star as a gesture of goodwill, while others are banking on his dependable image to take their messaging forward. In March this year, SpiceJet Airlines (with whom Sonu had tied up last year to help repatriate thousands of stranded Indians who were stuck in places like Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Manila) dedicated a special aircraft livery to honour the humanitarian work done by the actor. The airlines unveiled its Boeing 737 aircraft with an image of the actor wrapped on it.
Prior to this, Britannia Tiger Krunch launched the Krunch Khao, Punch Dikhao campaign and Sonu was roped in to shoot a series of self-defence videos to help children learn the techniques of different martial art forms from across the globe. “This is a campaign I can relate to,” says the father of two sons, adding, “There are many children who bully their classmates, and the ones who are bullied shy away from going back to school. It’s important to make them strong physically and mentally, so I felt this self-defence campaign is important. We have chosen five different martial art forms from the world (Krav Maga from Israel, Judo from Japan, Jujutsu from Brazil, Kalaripayattu from India and Taekwondo from Korea), children can watch these videos and learn some techniques of self defence,” explains Sonu.
It’s campaigns such as these — that have further consolidated Sonu’s image not just as a superstar, but also as a real-life superhero for children. It doesn’t come as a surprise when the actor says his sons are proud of him. He reveals his children, 18-year-old Eshaan and 12-year-old Ayaan, have started helping him in his work.
“They have been sharing new cases with me because people in need also get in touch with them on their social media handles requesting them to inform me. So, they share such cases with me and even follow up to check if the person has been helped. I think this will keep them connected with humanity. These lessons cannot be taught and have to be experienced, and I am glad that both Eshaan and Ayaan are learning their lessons practically by interacting with and observing these people almost every day. I hope they continue on this path and reach out to many more lives,” he says.
Sonu too is quite social media savvy but he prefers to keep it light. Between replying to requests for help on his official accounts, Sonu, of late, has been entertaining his 5.8M followers on Twitter and 8.7M followers on Instagram with some fun cooking videos. From making tandoori rotis to whipping up a lemonade, the actor has revealed a different side of himself in the candid videos. “I had tried cooking tandoori roti as a child in Moga, Punjab where I grew up. I wanted to experience that moment again so I made the roti and shared the video. I believe all these things help me stay connected to who I am and where I am from,” says Sonu.
Though it may appear like all his followers admire and respect the actor for the work he does, there are an equal number of trolls who criticise him online. But Sonu takes all the trolling in his stride. “To my trolls, I want to say ‘stay blessed always and be focused on whatever you are doing. If someone (referring to himself) is trying to do some good, you can’t stop them. Keep shining, always’,” he says with a smile.
The actor is most remembered for his negative roles in Bollywood and South Indian films, but he was also much-appreciated for his comedy in Farah Khan’s Happy New Year. Talking about some of his films, he says, “I have done close to 100 movies and I am working on more. There are too many to remember, but Arundhati, Dabangg, and Happy New Year were special. These were interesting scripts and even the co-stars I worked with were very special.”
On a mission
Sonu who co-authored the book titled I Am No Messiah says it was a special experience to be involved in its making. “The book is not about me. It is about all those millions of people with whom I got connected, so it will always be special. There’s a lot more to achieve on the work front. I hope that I stay connected with my humanitarian work because it’s more satisfying than anything else,” says the actor who will soon launch Ilaaj India, a blood bank under his foundation.