Sometimes I am not sure if Sonu Sood is for real. Till mid April this year, the only image I had in my mind of him was that of the bumbling Lakhan Singh (Lucky) from Singh is Kinng – the supposedly villainous Punjabi mafia don Down Under who was actually quite endearing, and funny.  But then suddenly, a month into the lockdown, he burst onto the media headlines as the ‘messiah of the migrants’. In a role in real life that had little or no connect to the reel Sonu Sood of Dabangg or even Rajkumar Sujamal of Jodha Akbar. This Sonu Sood was a different soul, an evolved super-human, a towering personality driven by passion and purpose.

The Man from Nowhere
While most celebrities had gone into hibernation, if not hiding, Sonu Sood was suddenly all over Mumbai, shepherding hundreds, nay thousands, of migrants and arranging for their safe passage home to far-off villages in distant states. Personally exposed to the perils of the infection; sleeping barely four hours every night. The statistics are mind-blowing: over 100,000 migrants sent home on 3 flights, 9 Shramik trains and 430 buses, all in 4-6 action-packed weeks. The details of Sonu Sood’s Mission Ghar Bhejo are even more impressive when you look closely at the micro and minute details. Sample these:

Airlifted 169 migrants from Kerala to Bhubaneshwar on 26th May
Airlifted 175 migrants from Mumbai to Uttrakhand on 5th June
Airlift 175 migrants from Mumbai to Assam on 10th June

Each of the flights apparently cost Sood about Rs. 18 lacs apiece. What is not in the public domain is that besides, and beyond, the chartered flights, Sonu Sood also arranged 3,389 flight tickets for destitute migrants stressed due to medical emergencies, or to attend a family member’s last rites when there was non-availability of connecting train routes. Estimated cost: Rs. 2 crores!!!

Train to the hinterland
But it is the ‘rescues’ affected on the Shramik Trains that make for even more interesting statistics:

 Almost 9,100 migrants sent home through 4 Shramik Trains to UP on 8th June, 16th June and 2nd July from Bandra Station; and on 11th June from Borivali Station.

4,100 migrants boarded 2 Shramik Trains to UP on 31st May from Thane.
Arranged a Shramik Train to rescue 2,030 migrants from Mumbai and send them to Bihar on 25th June from Bandra.

Again arranged a Shramik train from Mumbai to Kolkata with 1,880 migrants on board on 20th June from Vasai.

Interestingly, a Shramik Train for Jharkhand was arranged by Aahaan Vihaan, an NGO, on 05th July, but the NGO was not able to muster the minimum number of migrants per train, according to the stipulated requirements of the Railways. So they approached Sonu Sood, and he arranged 1,270 migrants to board the Jharkhand bound train in less than 24 hours.

Again, the more startling fact that most media has not written about is that Sonu Sood arranged (read paid for) almost 39,389  counter-purchased tickets to send migrants home from Mumbai to Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi, Surat, Nashik, Kerala, Tamil Nadu  and other cities and states. Plus a mind-numbing 27,890 Tatkal tickets were paid for to fund destitute migrants headed home.

Country roads, take me home
Where did this miracle man from small town Moga, in Punjab, manage all the resources – both managerial, and money from? As they say, “Log judte gaye, kafila banta gaya”. Sood was apparently feeding almost 45,000 poor people per day from personal funds by the end of April, starting with just a thousand meals per day, a month earlier. And in true Punjabi style, he was personally there first-hand to help with the sewa, the distribution of the food. Wherever he went, hundreds of tired, morose, despondent and crying migrants would beg him to send them ‘home’ – back to their villages, their families. Their pain, and desperation to head home, brought tears to his eyes. And, he decided to do the best he could by them. He started small.

First a few buses. Then more. Finally, buses took home as many as 14,344 migrants from Mumbai to UP, Jharkhand and Bihar.

200 idli-walas were sent from Mumbai to Tamil Nadu on 5th June by bus.

944 migrants were then sent from Mumbai to Uttrakhand by bus.

Another 95 buses were arranged from Mumbai to different states to deliver 3,780 migrants home, from wherever they came.

Each bus had enough food packets, snacks, fruits and bottled water on board to last the full journey. Also, fully equipped medical kits. And Sonu Sood was there personally to break a ceremonial coconut on the front wheel of the first bus to invoke the Gods for everybody’s safe travels and good health. There were nothing but moist eyes all around.

A politician in the making? 
Most media has been writing about Sonu Sood being headed to the hurly-burly of politics. Otherwise why would he want to do all this tamasha, they ask? Sonu Sood is quite categoric (see interview) that he is not doing it for either the creation of a vote-bank or to project himself as a Robin Hood in these troubled times. It has just been his inner calling, his conscience at work. For most though these statements of humility and humanity are hard to swallow.

Where did he get all the funds from? And governmental permissions? And an army of support staff who have been managing such humungous planning and logistics. Sood is simply dismissive. He says once he started to show the way, help and support just poured in – both from individuals, and organizations. The Government, too. Many take that with a pinch of salt.

Sood’s latest exploit is the return of students from Kyrgystan. Almost 4,000 of them marooned in a tiny country that was almost on no one’s rescue map. When Sonu Sood was beseeched by desperate and dispirited students from Bishkek and Osh, he organized for 1,600 of them to be brought back on Air India’s Vande Bharat flights. The balance lot too will start flying home from 22nd July, courtesy the Moga man’s intervention.

Exponential Rewards
A recent survey, by think-tank Indian Institute of Human Brands (IIHB), rated Sonu Sood as the best performing celebrity during the lockdowns, amongst both corporates and consumers. Well ahead of Akshay Kumar (who famously wrote a Rs. 25 crores personal cheque to the PM CARES Fund) and Amitabh Bachchan who were placed second and third in the rankings. Ayushmann and Taapsee Pannu at No. 4 & 5 were far behind. For once, Sonu was way way ahead of Virat Kohli, Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh and even Deepika Padukone. Quite an achievement for someone who has not really been an A-lister in Bollywood, and has had most of his success in Telugu movies.

Not surprisingly, brands have been lining up for a piece of Sood’s new found super-fame. First Pepsi, then Godrej Interio and EaseMyTrip signed him up for endorsements. Then came Edelweiss Insurance. And now, say informed sources, an aviation client too is in the bag. Talks are apparently in advanced to closure stages with at least half a dozen other clients. Brand Sonu Sood is surely headed into the big league.

Will this also mean bigger movie roles? A super-duper television show like KBC or Big Boss to anchor? For Sonu Sood who turns 47 next week, all this is idle chatter. His biggest endorsement deal, he says proudly, is a welding shop named after him by a grateful migrant worker in Kendrapara, Odisha that he flew home. And another migrant who has named his new born Sonu Sood. For him that is love, that is the pay-back that he values most.

Is Sonu Sood really for real?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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