“I NEVER TALK ABOUT MY HITS OR MY­SELF BE­CAUSE I FEEL IT IS NOT THE RIGHT THING TO DO.”

He is tall, good look­ing and the epit­ome of a su­per hero. But did you also know that SONU SOOD in his jour­ney as an ac­tor has worked in the max­i­mum num­ber of hit lms? No won­der, he’s been con­sid­ered as a lucky mas­cot for many pro­duc­ers. Su­mita Chakrabort

Stardust (English) - - COVER STORY -

He be­longs to no camp or has no God­fa­ther. As for nepo­tism, don’t even think about it… he be­longs to a very non-filmi fam­ily. Yet, this man who walks tall, took the leap of faith and with sheer hard work and self-be­lief reached the top of the lad­der. To­day, with many pres­ti­gious films un­der his belt, Sonu Sood is be­ing con­sid­ered as the lucky mas­cot of the film in­dus­try. Read on… as this very grounded man talks about his life, films, self-be­lief and more… You’re one ac­tor, who has with­out tom-tom­ming on rooftops bagged some of the best projects in the in­dus­try – from Manikarnika To Simmba - that too with­out be­long­ing to any camp. How did you man­age to do all this? I wish I knew the for­mula. If I did, I would have ap­plied it much ear­lier in my ca­reer. I came to Mum­bai with two things in mind – one was to ful­fil the dreams of my par­ents. They were wait­ing for me to bag the right film so that they could go to the the­atres, and see me on­screen, and so I had to make it fast. But it did take time, how­ever, fi­nally it hap­pened. And re­gard­ing the sec­ond: I knew that I wanted to work with the best of direc­tors and ban­ners. Ini­tially I used to say ‘no’ to many movies and they used to tell me ‘You are a new­comer and you have the guts to say no!’ …And they found that ar­ro­gant as well. But I al­ways knew what I wanted to do. And one thing I was sure about was that I didn’t want to go back to

I didn’t want to go back to Pun­jab with­out mak­ing my mark.”

Pun­jab with­out mak­ing my mark. And that I did and that’s how the mak­ers un­der­stood that this guy has value.

You are like this silent op­er­a­tor. You don’t be­long to any camp nor are you from a filmi fam­ily or have a God­fa­ther, yet you have man­aged with­out all this. How? I would say the in­dus­try is the most dif­fi­cult busi­ness to­day. You al­ways need to keep on work­ing on your­self and things tend to change ev­ery Fri­day. So you have to be on your toes. If you go wrong, back track and then im­prove on what you did. You have to be re­spon­si­ble for your work, and that’s how you’ll move for­ward. And that’s been my mantra, and that’s how I moved for­ward.

From be­ing an en­gi­neer to a full -fledged ac­tor, how has your jour­ney been? It was not an easy jour­ney. While do­ing en­gi­neer­ing, I told my mother that I wanted to be­come an ac­tor, and she said, ‘Just do your en­gi­neer­ing with ded­i­ca­tion first.’ That I did! And then I moved on to be­come an ac­tor. Here too I knew that I had to put in huge amounts of ded­i­ca­tion. And thus, I started my jour­ney as an ac­tor. To­day, I have re­al­ized that you can achieve a lot of things only by sheer hard work.

Sonu, do you think that if you be­longed to a camp, or had a God­fa­ther, your ca­reer would be different? I would say ‘yes’! It makes a lot of dif­fer­ence when you have a guide - some­one there who makes sure you’re do­ing fine. I didn’t have one. And I strug­gled a lot – from trav­el­ling in buses, from one lo­cal to the other, stand­ing in long queues, run­ning from one set to an­other – but again, I wouldn’t think of my strug­gle - here I would fo­cus on my­self and I used it as a learn­ing op­por­tu­nity. And I think that has moulded me to be the per­son I am to­day. It took me a lot of time. But at the same time, it taught me a lot too. To­day, what­ever I have achieved, is all on my own with­out a God­fa­ther. You’ll be next seen shar­ing screen space with Kan­gana Ra­naut in Manikarnika. This will be your sec­ond his­tor­i­cal film post Jod­haAk­bar. Do you have a fond­ness for his­tor­i­cal films? Why did you pick this film? I played Bha­gat Singh in Sha­heedE-Azam and then Jodha Akhbar hap­pened. My mom was an English and His­tory pro­fes­sor in Pun­jab by the way and she used to read to me from all those books from our li­brary. So I do have a fas­ci­na­tion and lik­ing for His­tory. Now I’m do­ing Manikarnika, I re­mem­ber all her sto­ries of Jhansi and it’s nos­tal­gic that I am do­ing a film on the same sub­ject, and I wish she had been here to see me in this film.

Talk­ing about Manikarnika, Kan­gana has been in the lime­light for some not so good sit­u­a­tions. How was your re­la­tion­ship with her? I knew Kan­gana be­fore she en­tered the in­dus­try. We have done a Tel­ugu film to­gether in the South. So I do share a very close bond with her since then. I know her sis­ter re­ally well, her brother comes to our place very of­ten and I know her par­ents re­ally well. There is a very different bond that we share off cam­era. When on the sets, we do not just talk about cinema, we talk about other nor­mal things as well. She has done well for her­self and I am re­ally very happy for her.

You’re a part of Pal­tan. Can you share some­thing about it? What made you pick this film? 10 years back, I met JP Dutta sir - and I was sup­posed to do LOC but be­cause I was shoot­ing as Bha­gat Singh for Sha­heed-E-Azam at that point, so we couldn’t do it. After that when­ever I’d meet JP sir, he’d say, ‘Let’s work to­gether’.

Kan­gana and I share a very different bond off cam­era.”

He gave me a sign­ing amount and said, ‘You know what, just keep it’, and I did! And I was so happy that my dream of work­ing with a per­son like JP Dutta has come true and that too in a genre of a war film. It was a phe­nom­e­nal ex­pe­ri­ence shoot­ing for Pal­tan for two-and-a-half to three months in Ladakh.

Was it tough? It was very, very tough, with no oxy­gen and an ex­treme cli­mate of -15 -20 but all thanks to my fit­ness lev­els, I could sur­vive it. Peo­ple on the sets – prac­ti­cally, most of them took ill be­cause of the low oxy­gen lev­els - but some­how I was ab­so­lutely fine. In fact, on the sets, all the ac­tors and unit guys used to ask me, ‘Are you okay?’ or ‘why are you not feel­ing sick? But I was per­fectly fine and thanks to my fit­ness lev­els, I could sur­vive the bit­ter cold.

Sonu, you’re join­ing Ro­hit Shetty and Ran­veer Singh in Simmba. I think it is go­ing to be an an­ti­hero, right? Yes, it is a very pow­er­ful role and it has a lot of grey shades. I think it will be one of the most pow­er­ful roles I’ll be do­ing.

Fab­u­lous! So 2018 is re­ally look­ing up for you... Yes, I’ve got good films com­ing out within a gap of four to five months. So ya, good things are com­ing up.

You’re step­ping up the lad­der and you’ve got such a lot of good films. Have you ever had thoughts of be­com­ing the No.1 hero? Did it ever fea­ture in your list of ‘must things to do’? Yes, it al­ways fea­tured in my ‘must things to do’. When I joined the in­dus­try, I wanted to be at the top and do my best. But yes, my jour­ney was dif­fi­cult. But one thing that I was sure about was that I was here to stay and sur­vive, and no mat­ter, how long it would take, peo­ple would feel my pres­ence. That’s why I have worked with so many direc­tors and ac­tors - whether In­dian or from the South or Jackie Chan. All I knew was that I wanted to work hard and things were go­ing to hap­pen for me and I was ready to go for it.

As some­body who has seen a lot of hits and flops too, is fail­ure a chal­lenge or de­mo­ti­vat­ing? I’ve done al­most 90-95 movies and out of th­ese, I’ve got suc­cess as most of them have done re­ally well. And that’s why peo­ple in the South call me when­ever they plan a film. My name is con­sid­ered to be on the top of the charts. And I think for a North In­dian to be­come so fa­mous in South, is a feat. I think it has to do with the way I choose my scripts. So a role which is not very sub­stan­tial and not writ­ten well, they know that I am not go­ing to do it. And even in Hindi films also, my cri­te­ria has not been just be­ing a part of a big project or a big ban­ner or a big di­rec­tor, it is al­ways about the role. So I am re­ally glad that what­ever scripts I’ve done, were and are re­ally sub­stan­tial.

Your Hindi films track record too is re­ally good. You are kind of a lucky mas­cot be­cause I think you’ve fea­tured in quite a few block­busters. Yes, a lot of them. Da­bangg was a huge hit. At that point, Sal­man was not go­ing through a great phase then sud­denly it was a huge hit and it changed ev­ery­thing, and luck­ily, I was a part of that film. Like­wise, Shah Rukh’s Happy New Year, and then also Singh is King - and all th­ese films have done re­ally well and I think they are im­por­tant films for an ac­tor’s ca­reer. So it re­ally boosted my ca­reer too.

Al­though you’ve got such a great track record, you are pretty low pro­filed. Is that the rea­son per­haps why it’s not be­ing tom­tommed all across that you are one ac­tor who has got a lot of hits? I never talk about my hits or my­self be­cause I feel it is not the right thing to do. Like I’ve al­ways said if I am not con­vinced with the script, I don’t do it. But if I do pick a project, I am very pas­sion­ate about it and I give my in­puts. I re­mem­ber, ini­tially I had said ‘no’ to Da­bangg. Ab­hi­nav Kashyap con­veyed this to Sal­man and Ar­baaz and they asked me, why? I told them that I had two sug­ges­tions – I want Chedi Singh a little more com­i­cal and more en­ter­tain­ing. When Sal­man and Ar­baaz heard that, they said, ‘Okay, let’s make Chedi Singh a little com­i­cal and un­pre­dictable and en­ter­tain­ing and this is why the char­ac­ter re­ally worked. I could have done what was given to me with­out both­er­ing to give in­puts but there would have been that chance that no one would have known what Chedi Singh was ac­tu­ally like. So I think it is re­ally im­por­tant for an ac­tor to work on his own char­ac­ter and role too. If you see me on the sets, I am so pas­sion­ate about my work, I give my in­puts a lot. In fact, I even write my di­a­logues and share them with my direc­tors

I used to prac­tise stunts watch­ing his DVDs so work­ing with Jackie Chan in KungFuYoga was a dream come true.”

and di­a­logue writ­ers – and they tell me why do you want to kill our pro­fes­sion? (laughs)

Have you any as­pi­ra­tions to di­rect a film in the future? The direc­tors I’ve worked with al­ways say that I would make a good di­rec­tor. I don’t know when I will be di­rect­ing a film but I know all the tech­ni­cal­i­ties of di­rec­tion. But as an ac­tor I have miles to go and lots to achieve. So I don’t want to get into di­rec­tion as yet. Di­rec­tion can al­ways wait, but one day, it will hap­pen for sure.

You’re in an en­vi­able sit­u­a­tion now with the best projects. What are the chal­lenges that you face now? Once you do a good film, you are al­ways on the hunt for a big­ger film and a big­ger project. So I think God has al­ways been there for me. So I kept work­ing hard, and I did what I had to do. Of course, I even sat for months at home, wait­ing for the right project to come. I was once asked why un­like oth­ers who sign films left, right and cen­ter, I don’t sign what­ever comes my way. And my an­swer was: I don’t want to leave for the sets not re­ally con­vinced with what I am do­ing. When I get up in the morn­ing and leave for my shoot, I have to be re­ally ex­cited for what I am do­ing and be happy

on the sets and that’s the way I choose my films.

They say two ac­tors can­not be friends. Do you agree with this? No, I don’t agree to this. I think ac­tors can be friends. The only thing is that they don’t have time for each other. Once you shoot movies to­gether, you spend days and nights to­gether and that’s when you spend time. Once the film fin­ishes, you lose touch. But again the feel­ing of warmth is there. I would say this is an in­dus­try which leaves you with very little time more so as you have to do your work and make your pres­ence felt.

How was it work­ing with Jackie Chan and do you have plans to do some more films with him? Jackie Chan is one of the nicest hu­man be­ings I’ve come across. He is so grounded. I used to prac­tice stunts watch­ing his DVDs. And then I was work­ing with him, and it was a dream come true. I would say Kung Fu Yoga was one of the most spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ences of my life more so when we got him to Mum­bai, and he was sit­ting in my car and we were mov­ing from here to there - those months that I spent with him was very spe­cial. All I can say is that Kung Fu Yoga will re­main one of my most favourite films and Jackie Chan will re­main one of my most fa­vorite ac­tors.

Any se­quel in the pipe­line? We are plan­ning. My di­rec­tor Stanley is writ­ing a few things, let’s see if things get a struc­ture.

There are lots of ac­tors who are open­ing up about feel­ings of empti­ness or de­pres­sion - even though they are suc­cess­ful – be­cause of the pres­sure, me­dia in­tru­sion, liv­ing a life where ev­ery ac­tion is scru­ti­nized. What do you have to say about this? I feel this is a very tough in­dus­try. If a film doesn’t work, it is very im­por­tant to have your fam­ily and friends be­side you to stay grounded and not let things af­fect you. You shouldn’t al­ways keep talk­ing about movies and what you want to achieve in your life. God has plans which are best for you. One should keep work­ing hard and let ev­ery­thing else fall in place.

How do you man­age to bal­ance your per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life? I give my wife all the credit for the bal­ance. I have spent years of my life away from my par­ents for this pro­fes­sion. My mom was a su­per per­fect lady and so was my dad. And they al­ways told me, ‘Do your work with your heart and soul’. So what­ever I do, I give it my 100 per cent. But my fam­ily un­der­stands and be­cause they are so un­der­stand­ing, I can go higher and higher. You’ve an­nounced that you are mak­ing a biopic on PV Sindhu, what is the sta­tus of that? The script is al­most locked. We have done a lot of re­search. We are pitch­ing for ac­tors but again it is not go­ing to be easy be­cause many re­ally don’t know the game. And play­ing a world champ when you don’t know the game or in a given time be­ing like PV Sindhu, that’s a chal­lenge. But I am sure who­ever will play the role, will be the lucky one.

You’ve done a lot of gen­res. But we haven’t seen you as a ro­man­tic lead. Would you be do­ing a ro­man­tic film?

I did do a ro­man­tic film with Ra­jshri called Ek Vi­vaah...Aisa Bhi and who­ever has seen the film, loved the ro­man­tic side of the film. I al­ways wanted to do ro­man­tic films like Aashiq Banaya Apne and I wish some­one would make a film like that soon. I am as good as a ro­man­tic hero as I am, a hard-core ac­tion guy.

You are ac­tu­ally the epit­ome of a hero, the way you look and ev­ery­thing. You should be per­fect for a ro­man­tic lead.

Thank you! That’s very kind of you. I have ac­tu­ally done ro­man­tic films in the South and I also do neg­a­tive shades too. It shows my ver­sa­til­ity. Peo­ple say this guy is so good as a ro­man­tic hero but he can be neg­a­tive too. You don’t drink, you don’t smoke, you’re to­tally a fit­ness in­spi­ra­tion, so is there any weak­ness that Sonu Sood has that we don’t know of? I don’t know but my friends tell me that I don’t party and I don’t go out - and that’s seen as a neg­a­tive in the in­dus­try. You know when I just joined the in­dus­try, I too thought of throw­ing par­ties or go­ing party hop­ping so that peo­ple would no­tice me. But hon­estly, I felt to­tally out of place more so be­cause I don’t drink, smoke, eat non veg or so­cial­ize too much with peo­ple. This is just not my cup of tea. If I have to make things hap­pen in my life, it has to be through sheer hard work and that’s the way I want it to be for the rest of my life.

Peo­ple in the South call me when­ever they plan a film.”

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: DEVENDER SHARMA; MAKE-UP: RAJU CHAVAN; HAIR: SHOAIB (HAKIM ALIM); LO­CA­TION COUR­TESY: NAREN­DRA BHA­VAN, BIKANER

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