Go Vegan this Pongal/Makar Sankranti: Actress Sadaa

Actress Sadaa is an ambassador for the global campaign, Veganuary and encourages the green lifestyle, even if it just means giving a vegan dish a try!

Published: 14th January 2023 04:30 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th January 2023 04:30 PM   |  A+A-


Sadaa is one of India's ambassadors for Veganuary, this year

Express News Service

We first saw her as the adorable Sujatha in director Teja’s Jayam (2002), a runaway hit where she was cast opposite the then chocolate boy of Tollywood, Nithiin. Sadaa, or Sadha, became an overnight star across South India for the adorable way in which she said, Po Ra Po (a toying way to say: get lost). That and the fact that she essayed the role of the village belle in the movie with a conviction that was hard to come by.

Winning multiple awards, Jayam was remade into Tamil the very next year and this time around, she was cast opposite Mohan Ravi and directed by Mohan Raja. Mohan Ravi came to be known as ‘Jayam’ Ravi ever since and the film was declared a superhit in Tamil too.

The next few years saw her provide successive hits in Tamil including Varnajalam (2004) and Priyasakhi (2005). She also debuted in Kannada in 2004 with Monalisa, which was also a blockbuster at the box office. One of the biggest hits of her career, however, was Shankar’s Anniyan (2005), where she was cast opposite Chiyaan Vikram, the then superstar of Kollywood. The Tamil version, the original of the film, raked in INR 60 crore, thrice the budget of INR 20 crore and the Telugu and Hindi versions of the film, Aparichitudu and Aparichit, also did phenomenally well in their markets. Sadaa had finally arrived!

Originally named Sadaf Mohammed Sayed, the Mumbai-based actress was born in the small town of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra. With 35+ films to her credit, in her 20-year career as an actress, Sadaa made her debut in Hindi only in 2009 with Srinivas Bhashyam’s Love Khichdi, opposite Randeep Hooda.

With several more hit films in her kitty, including Tamil film Unnale Unnale (2007), Kannada film Mylari (2010) and more recently, the controversial Torchlight  (2018) was a critics’ favourite; Sadaa began to slowly shift her focus to wildlife and her love for animals. In her new avatar, she became known as an animal rights supporter, an animal rescuer and a proud vegan. It therefore, came as no surprise when we spotted her as a brand ambassador for the Indian leg of the global vegan campaign, Veganuary, this year.

Actress Sadaa

We caught up with the actress to talk about this lifestyle that she’s chosen and so proudly espouses, in a freewheeling chat that gives us a small peek into the personal life of an actress that has successfully avoided the media gaze for most of her career.

Let’s begin by asking you how you plan to bring in Pongal and Makar Sankranti?

Firstly, I would like to wish all the readers of Indulge a Happy Pongal and Makar Sankranti. I’ll be celebrating the festival as usual with my favourite traditional sweet dish — Puran Poli, also known as Poli, Boli, Obattu and Holigé — which also happens to be vegan!

You are an ambassador for Veganuary in India, this year — what is your message to our readers?

Veganuary is a great way to include animals in our celebrations, by being kind to them. The month is an attempt, where we’re asking people to come to try being vegan with us. Start with a single dish or go vegan all day or week and if it works for you, sign up for Veganuary’s 31-Day Challenge, and we assure you that it will be the best way to celebrate this festive season and begin this year.

So, how did you choose to be vegan and when did this journey begin?

I have always been an animal lover and very passionate about rescuing and fostering, but till 2012, I was a meat eater. I used to eat chicken. It was only when I rescued a baby chick — you know one of those baby chicks you often get to see in the market, coloured in crazy bright colours — that this change began in my life.

Do tell us more, what exactly led to a change of mind?

I came across this baby chick when I saw a bunch of children playing with it nearby and I decided to adopt it. This was merely based on a whim, I wasn’t thinking too much about it, but, as it grew up, I realised that there was nothing different when you compared the way this chick behaved in comparison to other pets of mine. I’ve always had cats as pets. Something really struck me with that realisation and it led to me deciding to quit eating chicken. That’s where my journey towards veganism began.

But how did all of this materialise into the Sadaa we know today — a champion of the vegan cause?

This was in 2012 and veganism was still just starting to grow as a movement in India I came across a few videos on Facebook and other social media, but they were all from western countries and so came with a very non-relatable western perspective. So, I couldn’t really make a connection, because you know how it is, Indians still believe that the milk we receive from dairy farms is only sourced from cows once the calves have had their fill. This was what was believed as an undeniable truth across India.

It was only in 2017 that I came across a lot of videos that revealed the truth about the Indian Dairy Industry — how the calves are tied away from the mother, how they are muzzled so that they can’t feed, and how male calves are discarded because they are of no use to the industry — that’s when the real change happened for me. Every time I came across such a video, I was left heartbroken, because it dawned on me that surviving without milk wasn’t that hard and we were choosing to do so, by taking away the right of a baby to suckle on the mother.

Actress Sadaa

We are actually breaking the whole bond of motherhood. Like try and imagine that scenario: a mother gives birth, you’re snatching away the baby and like that’s not enough, you also take away all the milk that the mother produces for the baby — and you do this year after year, pregnancy after pregnancy, birth after birth, calf after calf — what would be the mental trauma that the mother might be going through? That’s not motherhood any creature deserves! This hit me really hard.

That very evening, I remember it was November 26, 2017, commemorated as National Milk Day and I took a decision to give up all milk products and go completely vegan. It was an overnight, immediate and impulsive and very firm decision and I told myself: No matter what, I will make my way through this. I will not consume dairy or dairy products, and that was it. I didn’t even bother looking for alternatives at that point in time; I just knew this was the right thing to do.

Has it been difficult to stick to the decision?

It’s been five years now and there has been no looking back. I did find my way into a vegan lifestyle and I do not regret it at all. A lot of people think that following a vegan lifestyle in India or anywhere in the world means giving up on food choices and people often ask me: as a vegan, what do you ever get to eat?

But what most people fail to realise is, if you look at our normal dal, rice, vegetables and roti — that is vegan by default, if you just skip the ghee tadka, it’s purely vegan. So much so, most vegetarian food in India is vegan if you just skip the milk products; be it ghee, curd, milk, cheese, paneer, butter or buttermilk. Sure, I might have to skip on delicious and fancy dairy-based Indian sweets, but that’s okay, I really don’t feel like I am missing out on something, instead, I am actually thriving on vegan food. Even puran poli minus the ghee is purely vegan (laughs).

We are often told that being vegan is better for health? Is that true?

A lot of people take up the vegan lifestyle to help them with medical conditions and diseases that are known to be aggravated and often directly connected with the consumption of meat and dairy. Your acne, gut-related issues and PCOS, for example, are directly aggravated by the consumption of dairy. And also cancer, diabetes, thyroid — everything is being aggravated by the increase in contamination in dairy and meat. Since the demand for dairy and meat is so high, natural methods of sourcing dairy or meat will never be able to meet it.

Therefore, non-ethical methods are being used to increase dairy and meat production. And these methods, ranging from problematic methods of maintaining the cattle to the usage of antibiotics etc have harmful effects on our bodies, once we consume dairy or meat. The first change that I saw after I went vegan, and this was after around six months, was the disappearance of my acne. I used to constantly battle with acne, I had to visit dermatologists every month and I would be put on antibiotics, and birth control pills, and my hormones would be monitored — it was a horrible vicious cycle.

If I stopped the medicines even for a short time, I would have to go back to a dermatologist again, as the acne would flare up within a week or two. The moment I stopped dairy, however, it started decreasing on its own, without me even realising it. My acne became less frequent and then after a while, completely stopped. And now I have been having great skin, even on the days when my hormones are all over the place.

I’m not sure if my hair has benefitted from the diet change, but it has become healthier since, and my gut is definitely much better too. The knowledge that I am also not contributing to the exploitation of other sentient beings has surely had a great effect on my mental health.

Actress Sadaa

How do you deal with anti-vegans or trolls and haters?

Of course, we have a lot of people who poke fun at me and say things like: you’re breathing micro-organisms and eating insects without being aware of it, or killing them unknowingly, so how can you be vegan? Yes, they are absolutely right. Veganism is not the perfect lifestyle in any way. No vegan claims that they are not killing some organism — what it is, is the most conscious ethical way of living, where consciously you are saying no to anything that comes via the exploitation of other sentient beings.

And finally, what can we see you in next?

I just finished a project with director Teja, who had launched me in Jayam, 20 years ago. I am also doing a guest appearance in another film that I can’t talk about right now, and I just started a dance show with Endemol India in Telugu.

(This story has originally appeared in Indulge)

India Matters


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