Indian actor Sonu Sood has been named the number one South Asian celebrity in the world for his philanthropic efforts during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, in a first-of-its-kind ranking released in London on Wednesday.
The 47-year-old Bollywood star beat off tough global competition to top the '50 Asian Celebrities in The World' list, which is published by UK-based weekly newspaper 'Eastern Eye'.
It celebrates artists who made a positive impact with their actions or were inspiring in their own unique way and involved public input, with several social media posts collated for nominations.
"As the pandemic broke, I realised it was my duty to help my countrymen; it was an instinct that came from within," said Sood, expressing his gratitude for the honour, which recognised his far-reaching efforts at transporting and helping Indian migrant workers during the COVID-19 lockdown.
"Eventually, this was something I came to Mumbai for. It was my responsibility as an Indian, which I did. I think all the love of the people which I received was simply their wishes and prayers. Once again, I won't stop till my last breath," said Sood, who is behind box-office hits such as 'Dabangg' and 'Simmba'.
'Eastern Eye' entertainment editor Asjad Nazir compiled the list. He said Sood was a deserving winner because no celebrity did as much to help others during lockdown.
"What started off with the big-hearted Bollywood star helping impoverished migrant workers stranded by lockdown get back home, evolved into a spectacularly philanthropic mission that made a difference to so many during the pandemic," said Nazir.
"Whether it was paying for surgeries, donating food, setting up scholarships, campaigning for women's rights, or buying a new tractor for a farmer so his daughters could study and not plough a field, super Sonu helped in countless ways in 2020. He fully deserves the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, which is handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,” he said.
Canadian YouTuber, social media star, comedian and TV personality Lilly Singh came in second for her "pathbreaking journey, remarkable output and entertaining audiences most when they needed it".
Half-Indian British pop superstar, Charli XCX, was third for creating her masterpiece Mercury Music Prize nominated album ‘How I Am Feeling Now’ entirely during lockdown and British Indian actor Dev Patel was fourth for his glass-ceiling shattering, colour-blind lead roles in 'The Personal History of David Copperfield' and 'The Green Knight'.
Indian singer Armaan Malik came in fifth for his immense musical output that included barrier-breaking English language songs.
Sixth-placed Priyanka Chopra Jonas remains the most famous Indian star in the world, while the rest of the top 10 includes pan-Indian star Prabhas (7), Hollywood power player Mindy Kaling (8), highest-placed Indian TV star Surbhi Chandna (9) and Pakistan-born Hollywood heavyweight Kumail Nanjiani (10).
"Whether it was philanthropy, breaking boundaries, inspiring others, trending across social media, crossing new frontiers, creating really great work or inspiring a new generation, many South Asian stars shone brightly and became beacons of hope, during a crushing year when it was needed more than ever. They are celebrated in this list,” added Nazir.
The youngest in the list is 18-year-old Canadian newcomer Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (22), who starred in the successful Netflix series 'Never Have I Ever'.
The oldest is 78-year-old Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan (20), who once again did great work on film and television, helped humanitarian causes, beat COVID-19 after contracting it.
The highest-placed author is the Booker Prize-nominated Avni Doshi (31).