HOW THE ACCLAIMED BOLLYWOOD ACTOR BECAME INDIA’S HERO DURING LOCKDOWN
by ASJAD NAZIR
HE MAY have made an impact playing negative roles onscreen, but Sonu Sood has been the biggest Bollywood hero during this coronavirus lockdown.
The acclaimed actor has worked tirelessly and risked his own safety to send many thousands of impoverished, stranded migrant workers, forced to walk across India during lockdown, back home safely. The incredible work carried out by Sonu and his team has not only saved lives, reunited families and helped curb the spread of coronavirus in India, but also inspired millions to make a positive difference and given hope to many.
Eastern Eye caught up with hero of the hour Sonu for a deeply inspiring conversation about his amazing charity work, what motivated him, challenges of being a Bollywood outsider, advice for young people and key message he would give to those who are struggling.
What inspired you to help out during lockdown?
What inspired me to work for the migrants was when I saw those upsetting visuals of millions walking on the highways with little kids and elders. So those visuals were very disturbing and I just thought it’s no time to sit at home and complain about it. It’s time to go out and connect with these people who made our homes, our roads and today, when they want to return home, we are not supporting them.
What was the first step?
So we went out, met them and spoke to everyone. That was the first time I got almost 350 migrants all the permissions and transport to go back to Karnataka. When I saw the smiles on their faces I knew this is not just the story of 350 people, waiting for support, but the story of millions across the country, who just want one ray of hope that there is someone who is going to take care of them. I went all out and connected with everyone from Jammu Kashmir to Kanyakumari and started helping everyone.
How have you managed to get so much done, when others, including charities and governments, have struggled?
I don’t know how I managed to get everything done. I feel the whole power and energy came from the lots of wishes and prayers of all these migrant families, sitting in their villages praying for their sons and daughters to come back. So I think their prayers did the trick and I was giving my hundred per cent and it happened.
Did you not worry about putting your own safety at risk, being out during a pandemic?
Yes, I did worry about my family because everyday I go out and expose myself at bus stands and airports, but I knew I had to take the risks to save a lot of lives, who are risking their own safety walking on the highways. So that amount of risk was very important for me to take, otherwise, I can’t sit at home and let things go haywire. I always used to pray that I should be safe and sound, not just for my family but also for millions of migrants walking on the roads.
How much has the love you have received motivated you?
You know, the love I have received has motivated me more. I hardly sleep and have been on the roads for 15-16 hours a day. So I think it is the love and prayers of all the migrants and people across the country. They have showered me with so much love that it keeps me going and makes me stronger to work for more number of hours to help them. So I think all the love I have got from them has really helped me.
Is there any one message of support that meant the most to you?
There have been many. I remember a person lost his wife and was not able to go back to his village. When I sent him back to his village on time he was crying on the phone and sent me a beautiful message saying, ‘you know from now on my life belongs to you; what you have done for me I will never forget’. So all these emotional messages! I thank God for giving me a place where I can help these people. And God made me a catalyst to help these people. So I am really blessed and feel that I came to Mumbai only for this.
You must have encountered many human stories during this crisis. Is there one that has meant most to you?
There have been a lot of stories. One guy’s, Bunnu Lal’s, father lost his leg in an accident and was stuck in Chennai, so we got him back to his father within a few hours and he was very thankful. Another person in Australia lost his father and wanted to come back. I got him back from Australia. Some 200 students were stuck in Russia, so I helped get them back from there. Many millions share their problems and somehow, I am able to rectify a few of them. I feel blessed to be part of all these stories. Now I know, I have family in all the states from Jammu and Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
A lot of people have wanted to help you financially to get the work done, but you refused most…
A lot of people came forward to help me financially and I try to tell them, instead, they should try doing something around their own area and vicinity. Let me handle this. A lot of people and friends have helped immensely like Neeti Goel, with whom I started this, when we were having this food distribution drive. Then other friends offered to sponsor half a bus or whole bus. So, there has been helping hands that came forward and wanted to be a part of this good deed. I am really thankful to them.
How much work is there left to do?
There is still a lot of work left to do. There are still people stranded and families who have suffered losses during this lockdown. So I need to take care of the families, get them employed or do something to help them survive. So the work is still on, and I will keep on trying to help.
You have become a strong role model for young people. What key advice would you give them?
The advice I would like to give the young brigade is, life is all about giving. So you have to give to people and can’t just live for your own self. You have to give something back to society. Living is something that is directly related to giving, so try helping society. Be a helping hand to someone, somewhere who needs you. I think that will make you complete.
There has been a lot of talk about outsiders having added challenges when trying to make it in Bollywood. As a self made outsider, what kept you motivated during your struggle?
Life was and will always be difficult for an outsider. One has to stay strong. When you are not connected to the industry, whether it is Bollywood or any corporate, you need to make your own mark. You need to give your hundred per cent and that is the only way. You can survive. You can’t just complain that you are an outsider and think things are not happening the way you want. The only way to get success or reach places is to stay grounded, be humble and remain focused. Patience and perseverance are the key. If you are grounded, I’m sure God will guide you the right way and you’ll reach your goals. It may take time, but it will happen.
Now that people see you as a hero after all your amazing charity work, will it be easy for you to play a villain on screen again?
I don’t know. I think it will be difficult for me to play negative roles now. I have got so many offers for positive roles that I am sure there will be a new innings after this lockdown ends and I’m really looking forward to this.
What is the first thing you will do when the lockdown is fully lifted?
The first thing I would love to do is reconnect with all those people I helped reach home to see how they are and what is happening in their lives. Are they back to their normal lives and are they able to cope with challenges? So there is a serious amount of responsibility to see that their lives are back on track. But after lockdown I want to recheck with them to see how they are, to ensure that their life is normal again.
Do you have a dream role?
I was always impacted by these superhero films and believe that someday I will get the role of a superhero. I would love to be a part of it and am sure someone, somewhere will be writing that.
What are your hopes for the future after the lockdown?
I don’t plan for the future and what will happen after lockdown. I just take each challenge everyday, the way it comes. I’ll keep on doing my bit, trying to help people and trying to get connected with ones who need me. The rest I will leave up to God, I think. You just need to focus on hard work and God knows the best way to make you reach the place you belong to.
You have become a figure of hope. Would you give a message to those going through a difficult time during lockdown?
The message I would like to give people during this lockdown is to stay strong. Everyone is seeing these troubled and challenging times. So the idea should be to stay positive, have hope, believe in God, have faith and stay grounded. Try to visit those happy memories that you wanted to do when you were busy in life and now try doing those things. Convey to family members how much you love them and try to make some happy memories that will stay with you in years to come.
Twitter: @SonuSood & Instagram: @sonu_sood