Real and reel life hero Sonu Sood has been on the front-lines in the battle against COVID-19. He tells Anupama Chopra about helping migrants get back home, hearing about a newborn baby that was named after him and not having the time to read scripts or think about his next role.
Anupama Chopra: Sonu, I was looking at IMDB and you have about 70 credits as an actor. But I think it will be fair to say that this has been your most successful role – as the person who steps up in a crisis. From these weeks, what is the strongest memory that is going to stay with you?
Sonu: There are many memories. When I just started this journey to help migrants there were a couple of them walking towards their village in Karnataka, almost 80 of them. I stopped them on the highway and said just give me a day or two to get some permissions and then you can go back to your villages. They said, 'Sir, it's not going to happen. No one is there to take care of us'. I realised how they had lost hope and feel like they are going to die in the city. They are also very scared about their kids. I somehow convinced them and they stayed. I got the permission and when they boarded the bus with their kids on their laps, they where smiling and getting excited to travel to their villages. The whole bus started clapping and singing songs in their own language. It was a very emotional moment. One woman was pregnant. Yesterday she delivered a baby and named him Sonu Sood!
When I came to this industry a lot of people said nothing will come of you with a name like Sonu Sood. But then I thought if the name Sonu Sood has brought me this far, it will take me ahead as well.
AC: Sonu, we have all seen visuals of migrants suffering. Some of us have tried to donate in our small way. But you actually stepped out onto the street and helped. What triggered that emotion in you?
SS: I always said that you need to go in personally and see that everything has been organised, whether they have safety masks, if the bus sanitised, whether the permissions are in place. Lot of incidents have happened where migrants have paid money and been fooled. They were stopped at the border because they didn't have the right permissions and sent back. I never wanted that to happen. I personally wanted to take all the permissions from the governments in Maharashtra, Karnataka, UP, Bihar, Odisha… I have been in touch with every single department. It was a challenge but I am glad that finally I could put some strength and make this happen.
AC: Did it ever become overwhelming because of the quantum of misery you've been seeing?
SS: It's unreal. The visuals we have been seeing on news channels gave me sleepless nights. But when I went on the field and met them personally, what I saw was unreal. These memories are going to stay with me forever. There are little kids who aren't aware that they are going to walk 1000kms, but their parents are assuring them ke abhi paas aayega, aur thoda door hai. I thought these kids are going to grow up with memories of seeing their parents suffer on the roads. It's never going to get out of their heads. So I thought I don't want them to live with those memories. I have to go there. And, you know, people from all over the country they started helping. I haven't slept from past few days. I am on the phone 24X7, coordinating with the lowest office to the highest office so that things move fast.
AC: Do you never get tired?
SS: No. I think I was made for this work. My mom always used to say you're successful only if you can help someone. She is not around, my dad is not around, but somewhere their best wishes are doing the trick. And of course, you need your family support because I don't have anytime for them. I don't get to spend time with my kids. I just tell Sonali my wife that make a list of all these people from Odisha and sort out their numbers and coordinate where to pick them up from.
AC: I'm sure you've had no time to think about movies. Have you been reading scripts or thinking about roles?
SS: No not at all. You won't believe how many unread messages I have on my phone. I'll try replying to people at night. I wish a day had more hours because 24 hours is feeling too little. I keep thinking of the backlog of people who haven' t been able to leave, and how I need to send them in the next round. I won't let any migrants stay back.