Bollywood actor Sonu Sood hasn’t slept in four days, but it isn’t his rest-deprived state that’s worrying him.
“If I sleep for an hour, it means I miss hundreds of distressed migrants who are stranded and desperate to reach their villages. I can sleep later, now is the time to act. It’s crazy out there,” said Sood in an interview with Gulf News over the phone.
Sood, 46, has emerged as a hero for migrants in India following the COVID-19 lockdown since March 24. The abrupt closure of many businesses meant that thousands of people were left jobless and with no means to return home.
“When I saw the visuals of the exhausted migrants on the highways with their little children in tow trying to walk more than 1,000km to reach home, something in me snapped. I just wanted to help them in any way I could,” said the actor.
Unlike other Bollywood stars who are extending generous financial help through various charities, Sood has hit the ground running.
“I have always believed that I need to be the change that I want to see,” he said.
From arranging private buses to transport stranded labourers from Maharashtra to states like Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, to arranging food for them during their journey, Sood has been proactive. Pictures of him waving off villagers safely in buses are now become emblematic of celebrity good.
“One thing was certain that I had to be on the ground, taking care of things and ensuring that everything was running smoothly. I don’t believe in sitting at home and then delegating these tasks …. I just didn’t want to coordinate, I wanted to organise food from them and I wanted to see each one off as the buses take off,” the actor continued.
While his friends in the film industry are lauding him for his efforts, his close friend and Bollywood film director Farah Khan helped him by sending thousands of bottles of drinking water for the migrants.
A day before this interview, the ‘Dabangg’ villain had also met with Maharashtra’s governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari who lauded him for his initiative, ‘Ghar Bejo’ (send them home).
The meeting fuelled rumours that Sood wanted to join politics, especially on a BJP ticket. But the actor categorically denied such rumours and said that he harboured no political ambitions and is happy being in the entertainment industry.
“My biggest regret is that there are only 24 hours in a day. I wish there was at least a few more hours. Each hour of me being awake means I can help a few more migrants who are stranded and are desperate to reach home.”
As of the end of May, he has helped around 20,000 labourers reach their villages safely. He also rescued 117 women stranded in Kerala by arranging an airlift to their native place Odisha.
As a goodwill gesture, many migrants are naming their newborns after Sood.
“All I know is that God has made me the tool to help these people. I have to ensure that every last person reaches their native village safe,” said Sood.
The actor says that his family and his children are his biggest strengths during this humanitarian operation.
“When my sons ask me why I am not spending time with them, I tell them patiently that there are hundreds who need my help and they understand. My wife and my kids have been my pillars. I have not been home much, but they understand,” said Sood.
The actor has also set up a toll-free number to streamline distressed calls and has been bombarded with pleas for help on this Twitter account. Even distressed Indians in the UAE have been tweeting to Sood, asking for his help. When Gulf News reached out to him and alerted him about it, he said that he will try to help them.
“In my eyes, Twitter is not just about posting pictures of the clothes you wear. It’s about connection with people who reach out to you too. I want to tell each one of them that I am there for them. I am on my feet and will help in all ways I can … Remember to send in your contact details so that we can try to help you.”
“My parents are no more but I am sure they are up there smiling and supporting me,” said Sood.