The Indian obsession with celebrities is real. From following them around the world to building temples in their honour, Indians have done it all, and then some. The latest public figure to have been bestowed with a temple is Bollywood actor Sonu Sood, whose philanthropic activities during the pandemic won people’s hearts.
From helping stranded migrant workers reach home to empowering those who have been rendered jobless during this time, the actor took up several initiatives during this time that helped thousands of people. In the beginning of the lockdown, many migrant workers had to walk thousands of kilometres to reach home due to public transport being shut. Sood started the “Ghar Bhejo” (Send Home) campaign and obtained permission from state governments for migrants to be sent in private buses from Mumbai to their home states. He also arranged for medical help to be provided to those in need, including a brain tumour surgery for a 46-year-old resident of Assam. In December, he launched another initiative to make those who lost their jobs during the pandemic “self-reliant” by providing them a new means of livelihood.
Recognising his many efforts, locals of Dubba Tanda village in the south Indian state of Telangana have constructed a temple paying homage to him. The temple with an idol of the actor was inaugurated on December 20, in the presence of the sculptor. An aarti (a Hindu ritual of worship) was performed, while women sang folk songs.
Giri Kondal Reddy, a Zilla Parishad (local elected body) member, told ANI that Sood has been doing a lot of good work for the public amid the coronavirus pandemic. “As he has attained the place of god by his good deeds, we have built a temple for Sonu Sood. He is a god for us.”
Madhusudhan Pal, the sculptor of the idol, shared that he was “elated” to have carved a likeness of the 47-year-old actor. "The actor has made a place in people's hearts with his helpful nature. I have also created a small idol of him as a gift for him," he said to ANI.
Ramesh Kumar, who was part of a group that planned the temple, said Sood has helped people across 28 states in the country. “The way Sonu Sood has been helping people since the lockdown due to the pandemic has not just been recognised by India but the world. He received the SDG Special Humanitarian Action Award by the United Nations. So, on behalf of our village, we decided to build a temple for him. Like Gods, prayers will be offered to Sonu Sood too,” he said.
In September, Sood was awarded the prestigious SDG Special Humanitarian Action Award by the United Nations Development Programme in a virtual ceremony. Accepting the award, he’d said, “I have done whatever little I have done, in my own humble way, for my fellow countrymen without any expectations. However, to be recognised and awarded feels good.”
Fans of the actor have even campaigned for him to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour of India, for his efforts during the pandemic. In October, a Durga Puja pandal (site where community celebrations for the Hindu festival are held) had also featured a life-size statue of the actor.
Bollywood actors are known to be silent on issues that plague the country, and the work that Sonu Sood has done, and continues to do during this pandemic, has made him stand out. He has also lent support to the ongoing protests by farmers by calling for a speedy resolution of their issues.
During the initial months of the lockdown, Sood used Twitter to identify people reaching out to him for help and actively provided solutions at times when the government fell short.
“We started a toll-free number with multiple, almost 250 lines, and got 7.5 lakh (0.75 million) requests from people who wanted to go back. I was on the road for 16 to 18 hours a day, securing permissions and getting them boarded”, he told Forbes.
However, many Twitter users have also pinpointed gaps in the stories of Sood helping people in need. Some noticed how most of the tweets asking for help had since been deleted, and also questioned how he was finding tweets with no reach when there were many other neglected tweets that didn’t receive a response. Some went so far as to labelling him “the biggest scam of 2020”, to which the actor responded by saying they were trolls who didn’t have much else to do, and presented a list of over 7,00,000 people he’d been able to help during the pandemic.
“Their kitchen runs with this,” he’d said, “They earn money on every tweet, which is fair enough. I’m telling them to run their kitchens, but the money which they get from trolling, help someone else, don’t keep it all at home.”
Despite these claims, he continues to devise new ways of helping people. In July, he launched an app called Pravasi Rojgar (Employment for Migrants) to offer support to migrant workers in finding jobs in various sectors across the country. Recently, the app partnered with Singapore-government owned investment firm Temasek’s job search platform for blue-collar workers, GoodWorker. GoodWorker also made an initial investment of Rs 250 crore (approx. $34 million) into the app to help achieve its target of reaching “10 crore Indians by providing access to good jobs and career progression through upskilling services, followed by financial, healthcare and social security services”.
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