When Sonu Sood speaks, people listen. In a world where celebrities are demi-gods thanks to their commercial value, Sood’s currency is activism. His latest avatar as the host of a new National Geographic series uncovers the uniqueness of India through its villages and cities. The humanitarian actor, whose advocacy of causes was perceived with a jaundiced eye by the government, says, “On this show, lost stories will be told. It gives the unsung heroes of our country a platform to share their work.”
On It Happens Only in India, which premiered recently, Sood is seen interacting with men and women who have left an indelible mark on society with their work, just like the actor himself. The 10-part series spans the modern to the mystic and features individuals and their achievements—environment crusades to the latest in space technology.
Sood would rather talk about the people who inspire him than how he inspires others. “In our country there are so many individuals doing so many things and inspiring others. I always say, don’t think that you don’t have the resources to do something or help someone in need. Just take the first step,” advises the 48-year-old star with a difference.
It is only logical that if with Sood, the talk will move to philanthropy—establishing scholarships for the underprivileged, helping stranded migrants, acid survivors, giving free meals to the poor and more. It’s difficult to not pay attention that even in the small window of our 10-minute Zoom interview his attention is diverted twice by people waiting to meet him. Someone is seeking medical aid, a father wants a job for his son, a mother is waiting anxiously for Sood to arrange her child’s school admission.
Is there a formula to his activism? “Everyday it’s a challenge,” he confesses. Even when he is on the sets, his staff such as the vanity van driver or the makeup man gives their friends the location and people in need queue up. “I take the first step of holding their hand and things fall in place. The last two years have taught me that when the Almighty gives you the responsibility to bring change, a formula to make it happen follows,” he adds.
Philanthropy runs in Sood’s genes. His mother, a government college lecturer in Moga, Punjab, gave free classes to underprivileged children. “My mom always inspired me. If she saw a student missing in class then she would ask me to take her to that student’s house. In Punjab’s heat, I used to take her 30-40km on my scooter’s pillion,” he reminisces. His mother would reason it out with the parents on the importance of education and ensure that the child returned to class the next day. “Then I could never understand why my mom used to take such pains to convince strangers about the merits of education. She used to say even if one child gets educated per family then generations will be saved.”
Sood still receives letters from his mother’s students, from all across the world, expressing their gratitude on the change she brought in their lives. It seems he is walking in her footsteps. “I miss my mom so much now. She planted that seed in me that it doesn’t really matter if you can do it or not, just take that first step and then you will see magic unfolding. Put in that effort,” he urges.
On another note, his effort is going into making a historical action drama Prithviraj (alongside Akshay Kumar) from Yash Raj Films to be released in January. In the pipeline is Telugu action drama Acharya and one more action thriller. However, Sood’s altruistic commitments mean less time for films. “A lot of film projects have come to me, but unfortunately I’m not getting time even to read the scripts. I wish I could do more films next year,” he says.
Meanwhile, there are medical reports of patients who have approached him to be sent to the doctors and colleges to be finalised for aspiring students. He is the harbinger of hope on whom rides a thousand dreams that happen only in Sood’s work.
Stories that fascinated Sood in It happens Only in India
Kalari Martial Arts Muscope—The world’s smallest microscope Making ink from pollution Origins of Mysore sandal soap Kanchipuram Idli