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Odisha has a Sonu Sood — actor Sabyasachi Mishra who’s making things happen for migrants

From arranging bus and train travel to medical relief, the Odia actor has been helping people reaching out to him through social media during Covid.

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Bhubaneswar: A film star intervening to offer assistance to migrant workers, arranging transport, hospitalisation, ration and finance for people, and leading a people’s movement during the Covid-19 lockdown? This may sound like a reference to Sonu Sood, but Odia star Sabyasachi Mishra has led a similar campaign in Odisha.

In the last three months, the engineer-turned-actor has arranged the arrival of hundreds of Odias in around 35 buses, and many more by special trains, from states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Kerala.

Last week, he arranged a nearly packed chartered flight from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The plane also carried the body of Balaram Pradhan, who died over two weeks ago in Dubai. His distraught family had sought Mishra’s help to bring their deceased kin home.

But the actor’s assistance to people hasn’t been limited to transport. He has also delivered medical relief to people through hospitalisations, which is how the campaign began, and monetary assistance to migrants and others who were stuck in various parts of the country in the early phases of the lockdown.

Mishra did all of this through his little-known trust, Smile Please, which was formed just a year ago to provide a platform to differently-abled youths for a career in acting.

Also read: Sonu Sood is the new Sushma Swaraj, helping stranded Indians one Twitter request at a time

‘It just happened’

Prod him about the efforts that he launched and Mishra has this to say: “It just happened.”

The movement began with requests that people sent him on social media when India enforced a strict lockdown on 25 March, which lasted until May through phases before being eased.

Mishra admits he was clueless initially on how to help out. Like millions, he was trying to come to terms with the lockdown and had no idea how to help himself, let alone others. But he didn’t want to be perceived as indifferent either.

“My conscience told me to take a plunge and see what I can do,” the 34-year-old says.

First, he sought the help of some senior police officers in charge of the Covid control room in Odisha and a few private hospitals, with requests coming in for medical help. As the efforts began yielding results, migrants stranded in other parts of the country also started seeking his help.

“The issues of the migrant workers were a real challenge and that’s where the senior police officers did their bit in guiding me about the procedures, coordinating with their counterparts in different states and organising permission for the movement of those stuck away from homes and their dear ones,” he said.

Actor Sabyasachi Mishra in Odisha during the lockdown. | Photo: Special arrangement
Actor Sabyasachi Mishra in Odisha during the lockdown. | Photo: Special arrangement

On volunteers and donations

Over the months, his movement grew bigger. He received the support of many volunteers — mostly fans of the actor who has over 30 films to his credit in Odia, Telugu and Bengali.

“Who says I am alone in my mission? There are many others with me,” he says.

So far, finance has not been an issue, Mishra says but admits that he’s already spent a substantial amount from his savings.

Friends and well wishers have come forward with generous offers. Mishra was reluctant to accept contributions initially, saying any donation drive would have “derailed the larger cause”. But he is more amenable to it now. All contributions are channelised through the trust.

‘Bank of positivity’

Mishra’s social media inboxes are inundated with messages of effusive gratitude.

The actor started his trust in the name of a film he did in 2014, in which his character brought smiles to the faces of people. That’s how he is as a person too, he insists.

“I am a bank of positivity and want to be remembered as a good human being.”

Also read: Unlock complacency, contact-tracing fatigue — more than one reason for Bengaluru’s spiral


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