He towers above everyone else as all eyes turn to him the moment he enters the big hall full of women. Women of substance at the members-only event hosted by Ficci Flo Bangalore greeted the charming actor, producer, philanthropist and humanitarian Sonu Sood with a lot of enthusiasm and gusto.

The current Chairperson Nupur Handa welcomed the handsome actor who was in Bangalore to lend his support to the Ficci Flo’s Social Initiatives empowering women in Karnataka at the grassroots level through skilling, health education (SHE), partnering with VIDYA Skilling 300 women in digital literacy and mehendi art over the next two months.

Sonu has acted in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil and Kannada films, with some hits like Yuva, Athadu, Aashiq Banaya Aapne, Jodhaa Akbar, Kandireega, Shootout at Wadala, R… Rajkumar, Happy New Year, Simmba, Kurukshetra and Dabbang among others. He will soon be soon in his latest action flick Fateh in which he plays the lead role.

His charity during the pandemic was applauded in large numbers, and he was hailed as a real-life hero in India. Some even called him the Son of India. This boy from a small town of Moga, Punjab who has been making international headlines for all his humanitarian work, opened his heart out to us in this freewheeling interview, as he shared his meaningful journey over the years acting, producing and serving the nation.

What are the projects you’re working on currently?
In the movie world, Fateh is here. I’m writing, producing, directing and acting in the film, so it’s going to be a very special one. It’s going to set the standards very high in the industry. I’m really looking forward to it.

In the education sector, we have just launched a program for the IAS UPSE training, where we teach kids throughout the country, who want to appear for these exams. The Sood Charity Foundation to help people of all stature, for providing free coaching to UPSC exam candidates from underprivileged financial backgrounds is very special and close to our heart. There’s also SANKALP, from the Sood Charity Foundation, a free law entrance coaching program to assist people with academic guidance and other essential resources for CLAT and AILET exam preparation. We want to bridge the gap between the less-privileged deserving candidates and Law schools.

Also, of course, whoever needs any kind of medical treatment in our country, we always try and help them in the best way we can. We have been doing it and will continue to do our best.

Tell us about your fitness routine?
I almost put in two hours for fitness every day. I work for everyone else for 22 hours and for 2 hours everyday I focus on my fitness and myself. I enjoy my fitness regime. Every morning around 5 or 5.30 am I’m in the gym.

Do you ever feel like skipping the gym?
I never feel I want to skip. Infact I look forward to go to the gym every morning. Sometimes, if I have missed in the morning, I still go to the gym, even if it’s late night. I never feel like quitting. I like functional training, cardio and weights. I never liked trainers and I don’t wait for them. My trainer came and approached me and told me he wanted to train me. I told him I’m ok to train alone. But he said “Mere liye achha ho jayega if I train you” (it will be good for me if I train you). So I said ok. Some people come to the gym just to have a chit chat with their trainers. But I don’t do all that. I like to be focused when I’m working out. I’m very punctual and disciplined with my training. I like to do my own set of exercises. I go alone… all my life I have trained alone. My trainer Yogesh Bhateja is one of the well-known trainers who has become very famous.

Do you also do any meditation?
I don’t get time for meditation. I wish I could and I would love to, but for now working out is my meditation.

How do you balance family and work?
I think it’s very important to balance family and work. Family is what keeps us going and keeps us on our toes. My family is very kind and they’re very understanding and also are a part of my mission today and that’s what makes life easy.

What is your purpose in life?
Invent and reinvent myself every single day.

No smoking, no drinking… what do you like to do?
Training.

Any message for your kids Ayaan and Ishant?
I never feel low. I work hard and I’m always very positive. I used to always tell myself that work so hard that you will have to succeed. And just in case you don’t get successful and when you go up to heaven, you can ask God I did hard work, why did it not work in my favour? That’s when even God should feel guilty that he did not make it work for you.

How do you inspire your kids to do social work in this era?
If people have hope and faith and a drive, will and pursuit to really want to do something, then they can definitely do it. So, hope and effort to do something are very big words. Even if someone can hope in you that you can do something for them then it’s worth it.

Movies or philanthropy?
Philanthropy.

After movies and philanthropy, what next?
Well a lot of people wonder why I do so much philanthropy. Is it because I want to enter politics? I was even offered a Deputy CM post in Punjab and also a post in Rajya Sabha, but I didn’t take it up. I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. It was a big offer, but I did not want to run behind power or money. If I get into that kind of space just for earning a name or fame or money, then I am not fully on for it. I don’t want to have a seat and portfolio if I’m not able to give my hundred percent best to the people or do any service to the society. I don’t want to just get a minister’s tag and if I get it then I want to do true justice to it and serve the people. The day I enter politics I will give my 100% and do full justice.

Bollywood is so competitive and there’s lot of stress. How do you manage this kind of an environment?
I always believe in working hard. Sometimes things are not in your hand. I came to Mumbai years back when I didn’t know a single soul and now I’m producing films. If your direction is right, you may reach your destination late, but you will surely reach there, provided you work hard and keep trying.

You did so much work in Covid. How did you overcome the fear of death? What made you realise that you have to do it all?
When the first 350 people were to be sent to Karnataka I took the process of taking permission from the government of Maharashtra. I went through the books and took all the permissions and when I helped these people reach their homes, I could see tears in their eyes. There were thousands of people living on the streets who wanted to go to their homes but were not able to. I made sure that they reached their home.

There was no formula how to make this happen. In May 2020, during the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we helped thousands of stranded Indian migrant workers reach their homes by arranging buses, special trains and chartered flights for them. I was sending people back in buses. If a bus could accommodate 52 people we could send only 25 in one bus, as there was social distancing. Once there were girls who had to go to Orissa and had to change a few buses to reach their place. People were scared on how we could do it so that they could reach safely from Kochi to Orissa. Flights were not flying in those days. I spoke to someone at Bangalore airport and took girls from Bangalore to Kochi airport and they could reach Orissa. It was the first flight during Covid and then many rescue flights started operating.

Also, one of the MPs approached me saying he wanted some medical students to be sent back to India from Russia, Georgia, Kazakhistan, Uzbekistan and other neighbouring countries. I told him you’re the MP and he told me but you’re more influential and I trust you can do it. So, in July 2020, we arranged a chartered flight to bring home over 1,500 Indian students stranded in Kyrgyzstan and other neighbouring countries, flying them from Bishkek to Varanasi. I wrote an emotional mail to that ambassador and somehow he agreed to send them back safely.

On 5 August 2020, we helped 101 medical students, from Tamil Nadu, who were stranded in Moscow during the lockdown, reach Chennai safely on a chartered flight arranged by us after they contacted us for help. We also launched a website and an app called Pravasi Rojgar to help migrant workers find suitable jobs amid the pandemic. On 19 February 2021, we launched an initiative ‘Ilaaj India’ platform to provide healthcare services for needy people. In December 2020 we published I Am No Messiah, autobiographical book, narrating my journey to become an actor, and narrating my social work during the pandemic.

We also provided oxygen plants and cylinders for COVID patients as part of the Aao Gaon Bachayein (“Save the Villages”) campaign.

You have touched the heart strings of millions of people, like no other person can. The train accident in Odisha’s Balasore resulted in many deaths when you launched a Helpline For Odisha Train Accident Victims and requested the government to set up a relief fund. Who do you listen to when it’s a struggle between the head and the heart?
Your heart will always say do this or that, but I dedicated myself to a particular mission. It’s the choice that you make THAT defines who you are. We all have tons of things. If I’m shooting I wake up at 6 am and reach the sets on time and spend time meeting friends and relatives of people working on the sets even after pack up at 6 pm and sometimes there are so many people that meeting them goes on till 9 pm. I can also leave and say I will go home, my work is done here, but I don’t do that. I give time to the people who have been waiting to see me. whatever problems they or their family members or people from their village face, I listen to them and see what best I can do for them.

Any incident related to humanity or humanitarian service you can recall in those days?
There’s a person named Guddu who used to supply milk to all our apartments in our building. So, during Covid we had to fill a form for whatever service we wanted and that time Guddu connected people to whoever they needed to connect them like doctors, schools, supplies etc. And soon, the guy who used to supply milk packets and collect old newspapers started getting so much respect from everyone. In that area where a lot of actors live, he is now called Guddu ji and he feels so happy about it. Imagine if we also think only when we become rich or famous, we can help others it’s not true. He helped everyone when he was not anybody. It’s a true example of how we can help anyone at any stage. We should be willing to help.

Any challenges that you faced along the journey? Also, how can one be prepared to do humanitarian and social work that you do?
If you help someone then no one really remembers you, but if one time you don’t help anyone, then everyone will remember. People start suspecting if you help everyone too much. When you start this journey there will be backlash and people will wonder why he or she is doing this suddenly. When I started doing it, everyone was wondering where has this person come from? Does he want to get into politics and is he doing all this to become famous? I don’t have any locks in my house on any of the cupboards. When we started going through thousands of emails they were all mails asking for help. Speed breakers will be always on the right path. So if you find speed breakers on your way then you’ll know that you’re going on the right path.

A secret thing you eat that gives you energy?
Punjabis eat dal makhni, sarson ka saag and I love it too. And I never leave the opportunity to have that whenever I go to Punjab.

Dabbang or R… Rajkumar?
Dabbang.

How do you handle your girl fan following?
They handle me (he laughs).

How much time do you take to groom yourself?
Trust me; I don’t even iron my clothes. I just wear any clothes that are there and I get ready in maximum 5-10 minutes. Even for movies, I don’t take time to get ready. Sometimes I step onto the sets without makeup.

Your favourite food – parathe or ande (eggs)?
I love aloo parathe but in my profession I have to eat ande. Hamare profession mein apna pet bharne ke liye bhuke rehna padtha hai …in my profession to fill my stomach, sometimes I have to even stay hungry.

Amitabh Bachhan or Sylvestor Stallone?
Sylvestor Stallone as I started my fitness journey with him. He was my inspiration.

Your favourite actress?
Sridevi.

It’s the month of Mother’s Day. Can you recall your bond with your mom Saroj Sood?
Like every son and mother, it was always very special. She used to write letters to me and we were very close. No words can express how much I miss her. I wrote a note for her on her birth anniversary. There was a big void created by her death that will always be there, but we will always be thankful to her for the life lessons she taught us. I promise to give my best always and make her proud. I hope she’s happy wherever she is and keeps guiding me always.

What is your visit to Ficci Flo Bangalore all about?
I have been invited by Nupur Handa, the current Chairperson to launch their new year 2024-25. It was very wonderful meeting all the lovely ladies and so good to know that they’re all doing so well. I have given the first cheque to Vidhya Foundation that Ficci flo Bangalore is working with, for empowering 300 women with knowledge and skill that will help them to become financially better. And that’s the motto – be the change maker.