Still doing films, but today I realise how incomplete I was all these years: Sonu Sood
Many celebrities are also engaged in philanthropy, but rarely does one see regular queues of people waiting outside their homes for assistance as one does outside the building where Sonu Sood lives
He grew up watching his mother teach underpriveleged children in Moga free of cost. His father, Shakti Sagar Sood operated a langar in front of his shop. Today, following his philanthropic acts during the pandemic, the actor is seen as a messiah by many; the title of his book however is ‘I Am Not A Messiah’. “I’ve been doing social service for years. It’s just that the scale has increased, and with it the satisfaction,” he says with a smile.
During the first lockdown in 2020, moved by the sufferings of migrants, he reached out to help, arranging buses, flights and trains for them. “It was tough. I was often woken up by calls in the middle of the night. Hundreds of people would appear outside my home at all hours,” he reminisces. He vowed he would not stop till he had sent the last migrant home.
But he quickly realised that just reuniting families was not enough. “Many no longer had jobs; so, I started talking to hospitals, hotels, exporters and corporates to take them on,” he informs.In 2021, during the Second Wave, when the Delta virus ran riot, he connected with pharmaceutical companies and hospitals to provide timely assistance. Working on ground, he understood that many of these people did not have the resources to deal with medical emergencies.
That is when he launched the Second Chance Initiative in partnership with Aster Volunteers, the CSR arm of Aster DM Healthcare. In the first phase, the initiative aimed to support 50 children from very poor families in urgent need of a liver transplant.
Seven-month-old Safan Ali from Karimnagar, Telangana, was the first child to benefit, undergoing a successful surgery in a Kochi hospital. “We’ve done close to 40 transplants so far, free of cost, across the country,” Sonu informs.
He has been urging hospitals to do one surgery for free for every surgery they sponsor. “A hospital, inspired by The Good Samaritan Mumbai has no dearth of celebrities. Many of them are also engaged in philanthropy, but rarely does one see regular queues of people waiting outside their homes for assistance as one does outside the building where Sood lives “I’m still listening to scripts and doing films, but today I realise how incomplete I was all these years” our mission, approached me to be their face, agreeing to do 50 transplants worth over Rs 12 crore without charging a Rupee for them. That was a huge step because a liver transplant can cost almost Rs 30 lakh, making it out of reach of most families.
“I’m ready to endorse any hospital and waive off my fee, for 50 such transplants,” asserts the actor who has also been supporting kidney and bone marrow transplants, along with knee and hip replacement and other similar surgeries.
Last month Sood shared a picture with Chaumukhi Kumari, a little girl from Bihar, who was born with four hands and four feet to a paralysed father and a half-blind mother who barely earns Rs 600 a month. After a successful seven-hour surgery in Surat, she is today the couple’s only normal child, the other three being paralysed.
Being the son of a teacher, he is also focussed on education. When schools downed shutters and families ran out of resources to continue with their education, the actor leveraged his tie-ups with mobile companies and computer brands to get them free phones and laptops.
Although the world has opened up now, life is far from normal, he says, “Effects of the pandemic are still being felt even by the middle-class, following salary cuts and retrenchments. But they are too embarrassed to ask for help,” he adds.
He has been helping 21,400 students continue with their education, from school to the post-graduate level and study CA and law. “We give training for competitive exams. For the UPSC exams, we got 112,000 applications out of which 563 were selected, students who had never imagined they’d get such expensive coaching,” says the beaming actor, who has been leveraging tie-ups with universities across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana for free teaching.
Everyone should allot at least half a day to helping the less fortunate, he believes. “Social service should be made a compulsory part of the curriculum. I got my teenaged nephews to coordinate with doctors and patients to save lives and it made them heroes in their schools. I’d like to bring about this kind of awakening across India,” he says fervently.
People still wait outside Sonu’s home, 100 or more every day, some accompanied by their sarpanchs and mukhiyas. The number goes up to 500-600 on weekends. “My sons come down with me and help them fill out forms detailing their needs. They also communicate to me messages for help they get on social media. The idea is to bring smiles back,” he asserts.
His book, chronicling his humanitarian journey, has inspired many to start their own philathropic ventures. A second book is on the way.
“During the lockdown, there were no lights or cameras, only real-life action. I landed the most important role of my life with the Almighty directing the film,” says the actor, who came to Mumbai from Punjab dreaming of becoming a part of a Rs 100, Rs 200 or a Rs 500 crore film.
“But my earlier aspirations seem so insignificant now. I’m still listening to scripts and doing films, but today I realise how incomplete I was all these years. Rejuvenated, I have a calling now, and there’s nothing bigger and more special than this,” he says.
He has started building a school in Shirdi and flagged off a skill development centre in Mangalore where students are taught skills like stitching and coding. “We then help them find gainful employment. Also, if someone in Jharkhand wants to become a plumber or an electrician, we train them for a month or two, free of cost, and set them up with different corporates,” he informs.
If any political party were to offer him a ticket to stand for the elections, would he accept, given that politics would give him the power to amplify the work he is doing?
He surprises you by saying, “I was offered a Rajya Sabha seat but I turned down the chance of becoming a Member of Parliament because I was not mentally prepared. There’s still a lot that I want to do as an actor. I don’t know what’s written in my destiny, but even if politics happens in the future, it’s not going to bring this work to a stop.”
(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)