When ‘migrants' messiah’ squared up to taxmen’s charges

‘Messiah of migrants’ Sonu Sood squares up to taxmen’s charges

His Juhu home became a rest house for the poor, hungry, penniless people hoping for a ‘lifeline’ to survive

Sonu Sood. Credit: PTI File Photo

He idolises Sylvester Stallone, is pally with Jackie Chan and a die-hard fan of Amitabh Bachchan, boasts of 60-odd multilingual films in his resume, and has eye-catching looks - but actor Sonu Sood attained global popularity more for his charities than his cinemas.

That helped 48-year-old Sonu Sood — technically a “migrant” to Mumbai himself — attain a cult status of sorts among his fans, and helped set an example for many of his ilks to follow suit.

In mid-2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic at its first peak, with the nationwide stringent lockdown in force, Sood took to the streets to help out the stranded masses and became a messiah of the migrant workers, the worst-hit class.

The actor got down to real-life business, organising buses, trains and even a few flights to help the displaced and anxious people reach their destinations, and soared to the top of several popularity charts.

Also read: OPINION | Raids on critics misuse of State power

His Juhu home became a rest house for the poor, hungry, penniless people hoping for a ‘lifeline’ to survive and return home to their separated near-and-dear ones. And, he tried to live up to their tall expectations.

Somewhere, something seems to have gone wrong politically, even though he claims he “politely declined” offers of Rajya Sabha membership from two parties.

A few days ago, he had some unexpected and uninvited “guests” — in the form of Income Tax sleuths — who carried out a series of searches going after his suspected tax evasions, irregularities in books, dubious source of funding, diversion of funds and more, allegedly to the tune of over Rs 250 crore, as per an official statement.

Social media is rife with debates that Sood, who was seen rubbing shoulders with many a high-and-mighty of Indian politics, may have unwittingly gotten into the bad books of the ruling party at the Centre.

Sood recently agreed to become the Brand Ambassador for the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government’s mentorship programme for school students Desh ka Mentor after a high-profile meeting with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The media even speculated that the AAP may field Sood for the upcoming Assembly polls in Punjab. The nationwide tax survey in 28 locations came days after the above incident.

Also Read | Sonu Sood evaded Rs 20 crore in taxes, says I-T Department

“Every rupee in my foundation is awaiting its turn to save a precious life and reach the needy. In addition, on many occasions, I have encouraged brands to donate my endorsement fees for humanitarian causes too, which keeps us going,” Sood clarified after remaining incommunicado for a few days.

Sood hails from an ordinary middle-class family from Punjab. Born on July 30, 1973, in Moga to Shakti Sagar Sood, owner of Bombay Cloth House and a teacher Saroj Sood, along with his two sisters Monika and Malvika Sachar, he had humble beginnings.

His inspiration for social work and charity were his own parents. His father used to run langars in his hometown and his mother used to teach poor children. With his good looks and perfect physique, inspired by posters of Rambo, Sood decided to pursue his dreams.

He came to Mumbai in the late 1990s, armed with an engineering degree from Yeshwantrao Chavan College of Engineering, Nagpur, with a cash of around Rs 5,000 in his pocket.

His first Mumbai suburban train railway pass ID card bears the date July 8, 1997, which marks the beginning of his rickety life’s journey to stardom. Barely a couple of years later in 1999, he got his first big break in a Tamil film Kallazhagar, and in 2000, he got a chance in a Telugu film.

Married to Sonali, he climbed up the success ladder in the south Indian (Tamil and Telugu) film industry, mostly essaying the role of an antagonist. He got a break in 2002, with Shaheed-e-Azam, where he played freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. Mani Ratnam’s Yuva lodged him to fame and the Telugu movie Super virtually catapulted him to stardom. There was no looking back since then.

Also Read | Been busy attending to guests: Sonu Sood after I-T raids

He went global as Randall, with China’s second-highest grosser Jackie Chan movie Kung Fu Yoga, and later launched a film company Shakti Sagar Productions. He owns a hotel in Juhu and founded the Sood Charity Foundation last year.

During the lockdown, he collaborated with childhood friend and restaurateur Neeti Goel to help out the stranded people.

Nevertheless, the IT sleuths raised uncomfortable questions about the source of his funds used for the charity work for migrants. Currently, Sood is going around defending himself and vows to come out unscathed from the crisis.