During the Coronavirus lockdown last year, one of the most heart rending sights was that of thousands of migrant workers trudging across the country’s highways, desperate to reach their home towns. Migrants from UP, Bengal, Bihar, Assam were seen spending their meager savings on any form of transportation which would take them from Mumbai, Delhi, Surat, Bengaluru to their remote villages. And in their hour of need, actor Sonu Sood stepped in to help them make this arduous journey and travel back to their hometowns – he did this by arranging buses to transport thousands of such migrants. In conversation with Bharati Dubey, the star turned Messiah reveals why he shouldered this massive responsibility
How was the experience when you saw the migrants boarding the buses to go back to their villages? What were those faces telling you?
I could see pure joy on their faces. It was such an overwhelming feeling. My team had been working on the paperwork and talking to transport and state authorities so that they could go back home. The smiles on their faces and the twinkle in their eyes made us very emotional. They thanked us but we were more thankful that we had the opportunity to help them reunite with their families.
We heard that someone named their new born after you, there are sand art sculptures made of you and people from all over the country are thanking you!
Yes, when someone named their new born after me, it made me very emotional. The kind of love that I am getting from everyone is something that I could have never imagined. A while back, someone tweeted our Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi to award me the Bharat Ratna. A few young people dedicated a temple in my honour in Andhra Pradesh! I am a very simple man. I do not deserve these things. I feel truly humbled and blessed.
What did this whole chaos teach you about humanity?
It taught me that we humans are essentially; and inherently very compassionate. I saw so many people coming forward and extending a helping hand to the needy by organising food drives and distributing essential supplies. I would like to tell everyone that we are all brothers and sisters and we should learn to be there for each other selflessly.
What did your family say to you when you started this mission, especially your children?
They were very proud of me and that, I think, is one of my biggest achievements. They told me that they are very happy and proud that I am their father. As parents, we want to teach our children the right things but I guess I learn something new from them every day. They are the kindest and the gentlest. They told me that they would also love to come forward and help the needy.
You made sure you were there at the spots when buses were leaving with the migrants – was it necessary for you to personally go to get the permission?
Absolutely! It was my responsibility and duty to make sure that they reach their homes. I had made a promise to them when I had met them and I had to stick to my word. Besides, I was really worried about them being stranded alone in Mumbai. I was there because I wanted to pacify myself that they have boarded the buses and are on their way to their hometowns.
Do you remember the first migrant you sent home?
Yes! Once he reached home, he sent me a video with his family. I cannot explain it in words about what I felt at that point of time. I got to talk to his family members and it was quite an emotional moment for all of us.
Some of them have said that you should now be given the role of a hero?
I hope I do (laughs). To be honest, I have been receiving scripts where I am the hero. It feels great. I have been reading them. Hopefully, something exciting will happen soon.
What if you were not the celebrity Sonu Sood but just another regular person, what would you have done to help migrants?
Growing up, my parents had always told me that with privilege comes responsibility. I have tried to follow their advice all my life. I do not understand the difference between being ‘Sonu Sood’ and ‘just another person’. We are all human beings at the end of the day and it is our duty to be there for each other. It is not necessary that you need to financially support the needy but you can help them with basic supplies. I keep saying that we should help others to the best of our abilities.
Migrant workers are the backbones of our economy. But they lead a difficult life away from their families. They leave behind their children so that they can earn enough money and send it back home. They need our support. I am blessed that I could help them. Our country is full of compassionate youths. So many of them are coming forward and helping them to the best of their capacity.
You were an engineer who became an actor– how did that happen and were parents okay with it?
I have always wanted to become an actor. I had expressed my desire of becoming an actor to my parents but we knew no one from the film industry. After my 12th, I moved to Nagpur to pursue a course in engineering. After finishing the course, I told my mother to give me a year’s time so that I could give acting a shot. So, I moved to Mumbai and began auditioning. Finally, I was shortlisted for a role in a Tamil film and that’s how my journey as an actor began. They have always supported my dreams and ambitions. When I called them up to share the news that I had bagged my first film, they could not believe it but they were very proud of me.
Does the South route help actors find their way into Hindi films? Did it help you?
I do not think that there is a formula to be successful. It so happened by a stroke of luck that my debut project was a Tamil language film. After doing a few films down South, I was noticed and that is how I got a Hindi film. I am extremely happy with my journey and the way in which my career has shaped up. I do not think I want to change anything about it. Starting my career with a Tamil film helped me learn a lot. It felt like a whole new world where I did not know the language or the people there. But the whole process taught me discipline and that is something that helped me going ahead.