For over a month, millions of Indians left on the road hungry and jobless by an unsuspecting lockdown and a heartless administration, cried and pleaded to be sent home to their families. But few hearts were moved. Then came Bollywood actor Sonu Sood, and for many thousands, a star was born.
Over the past three weeks, Sonu Sood has been doing what the Indian government — both at the Centre and in states — took an oath to do. He has helped thousands of migrant labourers and students stuck in various states reach their homes.
From arranging buses to providing free meals, Sood did what our politicians promised to do before elections, only to turn their backs on these promises after coming to power, claiming they were merely “political idioms”. In September 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised he would eradicate poverty in two years, at a national executive meeting of the BJP. Two years later, his government was busy hushing up the National Statistical Office report that revealed how rural poverty in India had shot up between 2012-2018.
For this reason alone, we can be thankful that Sonu Sood isn’t a politician. Because every time Sood promised a person who sought help from him, he has actually fulfilled it.
Wish u a happy journey bhai ❣️ बोला था ना कल माँ के हाथ का खाना खाओगे। बिहार पहुँच कर सबको सलाम कहना। https://t.co/eGhdAXYtlW
— sonu sood (@SonuSood) May 23, 2020
Although, after his personal responses to the numerous messages from people reaching out to him on social media, many on Twitter drew comparison between Sood and former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
दिल में प्रोफ़ायल पिक्चर ज़िंदगी भर के लिए लगाना.. 24 घंटे के लिए नहीं 😂🙏 God bless ❣️ https://t.co/7lERS3sI8H
— sonu sood (@SonuSood) May 23, 2020
But while Swaraj, who would receive similar requests for help from Indians stuck abroad, had a ministry to take care of her directions after personally acknowledging requests on Twitter, Sood has been proving to be a messiah for India’s poor and needy in his personal capacity.
— MOhd Azam Siddique (@AzamSiddique111) May 12, 2020
The praise, the accolades
Sonu Sood is now being praised by his industry colleagues like director Farah Khan, journalists like Barkha Dutt, sportspersons like Sania Mirza, besides the tens of thousands of messages he is receiving every day from common Indians who are, perhaps, not used to seeing a villain on screen turn into a star in real life.
— Farah Khan (@TheFarahKhan) May 12, 2020
— Harshvardhan Rane (@harsha_actor) May 11, 2020
We must celebrate individual stories of generosity at this time. I met @SonuSood in Mumbai, who spent his own funds ( a bus costs between 65,000 to 2 lakh rupees per bus) to send migrant workers home to Karnataka. Now he is working on sending them home to U.P. Up on @themojo_in pic.twitter.com/Kzo2mmMu7k
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) May 13, 2020
— Sania Mirza (@MirzaSania) May 11, 2020
You are gold @SonuSood . You deserve all the duas for the work you are doing. God bless you! So proud of you .
— rohini iyer (@rohiniyer) May 11, 2020
The latest person to shower praise on Sonu Sood is Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani, who is the BJP MP from Amethi, Uttar Pradesh — the state at the centre of India’s migrant crisis, along with Bihar.
I’ve had the privilege of knowing you as a professional colleague for over 2 decades now @SonuSood & celebrated your rise as an actor ;but the kindness you have displayed in these challenging times makes me prouder still 🙏thank you for helping those in need🙏🙏 https://t.co/JcpoZRIr8M
— Smriti Z Irani (@smritiirani) May 24, 2020
Waking up to sleepless nights
Indians, like people anywhere else, are a sucker for feel-good stories, so much so that many people often equate news of or about poverty with “negativity”, or part of an agenda to show India in a bad light.
But that is nothing more than a way for people to cocoon themselves in a make-believe world where everything in India is perfectly fine — sab changa si. Anything that is not okay, such as the fact that about 300 million Indians struggle to make ends meet, is just something we can live with. Helping those in misery is anyway the government’s job. And when it fails to do its job, then the Sonu Soods will take care of it.
But Sood is a good example of why it doesn’t have to be that way. Poverty can either make you flinch and scroll past the ‘bad’ news, or it can drive you into action. One of the many things that sent Sonu Sood on the road to help labourers was the “sleepless nights” he had from “seeing families walk endlessly back to their homes”.
Until recently, Sonu Sood was known as the villainous Chedi Singh from Dabangg (2010), who would dole out body-building advice to his followers on social media. But now, he is responding to the larger crisis in the land, as he himself said, “This lockdown has been an eye-opener”. While it has opened his eyes to the larger problems of poverty and inequality that face the country, Indians, too, have discovered a new Sonu Sood.
Views are personal.