Sonu Sood once mentioned to Outlook that he won’t let migrant workers lose trust in humanity. And even today sending millions of migrants back home, he has lived up to his promise. He talks to Lachmi Deb Roy and Eshita Bhargava about topping the UK's 2020 celebrity list and how he wants to continue with his good work. He throws light on ‘ILAAJ INDIA, a platform started by him to give free medical help to people. Excerpts:
On topping the UK's 2020 celebrity list…
It feels great to be selected as the number one celebrity by a UK magazine in Asia. I don’t know whether I truly deserve this or not, I am humbled and thankful to God for showing me the right direction. But there are still miles to go, but my journey is on. I honestly believe that when you go out and help others that’s the time you actually realise what all you can do in life. What I have understood through my experience is that reaching out to millions of people can give you phenomenal satisfaction. I hope I live up to the title that has been given to me.
From being reel life villain to real life hero, how has the journey been?
2020 has been a roller coaster ride but it has been extremely special. I have had the opportunity to interact and get to know so many people from different nooks of the country belonging to various backgrounds and walks of life. We have exchanged our stories and they have caused a positive stir and change in me. I will always remember 2020 as a year when we all tried to be the best versions of ourselves. I have received a lot of love from all quarters and I am extremely humbled. My parents have always told me that with success and privilege, comes responsibility. I am just following their advice.
Are you still in touch with the migrants who have gone back home?
Yes, I am still in touch with the migrants who I have sent home. There are many whom I helped in getting employment, treatment and an education. So, I feel that we are one family now. Whenever they have problems, they connect with me. And they also come out to help others. So, it is a kind of ripple effect that has been generated where every single person goes out to help the other person. I am happy that I am able to start this and now I can see a huge voluntary list and they want to help others and work as a team. Many are coming forward to help other people medically and in the education of the needy. I hope this continues and we have many more people giving their best to change the lives of those in need.
The love of the people that touches his heart…
There are many incidents which actually touch my life like people keeping their kid’s name on my name and they are making temples in my name, though I don’t know whether it is right or wrong, but the kind of love that I get is phenomenal. When I go to Hyderabad, Punjab or Odisha, the love that they shower me with can’t be put in words. They start crying when they see me. They hug me and they tell me that because of the right help that I could give them at the right time, their lives are safe now. It makes me feel good and I wish my parents were here to see this day. But I strongly believe that my parents are the ones who are guiding me to do what is right at this point of time.
When was it that you first decided that you want to help the distressed out during the pandemic?
I had started off with organising food drives. Then one day, I was watching the news and I saw these montages of migrant workers walking a thousand miles to go back home during the lockdown. Those visuals kept me up for the next few days. I felt like I wanted to go out there and help those in need. I wanted to make sure that they can get back home comfortably and be reunited with their families.
What has been the most special gift or comment you’ve received from the people you helped?
What have kept me going are the smiles on the faces of the people after they reunited with their families. So…
So, humanity exists?
Yes, it does
What are your plans next?
I want to do something big to help in the fields of education, employment and medicine for the needy. I have opened this platform called ‘ILAAJ INDIA’ which helps thousands of people every month with free medical help. We help people in getting their treatment done. Especially for those who are suffering from cancer. There are many who are getting their bone marrow transplants, hip replacement surgeries, knee replacement surgeries, liver transplant, kidney transplant and even paediatric surgeries done through this platform. In the last few months we were able to do almost close to 1,000 surgeries in different fields and in different hospitals across the country. So, I feel that it is something magical and I still can’t believe that we are able to do this for people who need medical help. But like I said when the masses and blessing of the people are with you everything falls in place. There are millions of people who are praying that I continue to do this and I promise to keep the good work going.
What are the films and shows that you are working on?
Regarding the film front, I have completed ‘Prithviraj’ which is a Yash Raj film and it will be releasing early next year. There are two South movies, both are Telugu films that I am working on. One of them is with Chiranjeevi as an actor-producer with me and I am shooting for it right now. There are a couple of offers from Hindi web shows also that I am considering. But like I said, a lot of time goes into helping people which is the need of the hour, so I am unable to focus on them. There are many directors and producers who call me and tell me that I need to focus on my career, but sometimes there are so many things to do that hearing scripts for new offers takes a back seat. But I am on it and hopefully, next year there will be many more movies coming up.
Tell us something about your character Chand Barai from Prithviraj.
I can't speak about Prithviraj at the moment, will speak during the release (smiles).
Do you remember your first scene or first day in front of camera?
I most definitely remember my first day on the sets of my first film. It was a Tamil film. I was very nervous. I thought that I will not be able to pull my scene off. I started thinking that I am not good enough. But my director was very supportive. Once the cameras began rolling, I began realising that this is where I belong and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Are we still going to see you playing a villain? Would you be comfortable doing that now?
Why not? I have always been very particular about keeping my real and reel lives separate. I do not bring my characters home with me. When I am playing a character on-screen, I am not Sonu. I have always been and I still am open to playing different characters as they long as they are interesting and challenge and excite me.
A character you would want to play (experiment)
I think I would love to play Bhagat Singh again.
Do you think OTT platforms are changing the game for talented and new actors?
Absolutely! With OTT, the game has completely changed. Today, there’s work for everyone. The so-called straitjacketed definitions of a hero have changed. Look at the kind of talent that we have today! This bunch of new and emerging talent is so brilliant, dedicated and are not afraid to try out new things.
Content is the new king – what do you have to say about it?
It definitely is. We are explored to world cinema now. I have not had the time to catch up on shows on these OTT platforms but my children tell me that there’s amazing content out there. As an industry, I think we have upped our ante long ago. If you cannot keep your audience hooked on to your film, they will leave. The usual formulaic elements in a film are not enough. The landscape has changed and filmmakers and writers are putting a lot of thought into developing stories and ideas. It is good to see that writers have come to the fore yet again.
On mortgaging eight properties to raise Rs 10 crore for the needy people…
Regarding the property, I am not too comfortable talking about. But my efforts to help people in need will continue forever.
How do you deal with criticism?
I don’t take it too much to heart
When not working or helping people, what can we expect you doing (in your free time)?