From “Migrant Messiah” to “PR Hero”: Why Sonu Sood is Facing a Backlash on Social Media

Coronavirus

From “Migrant Messiah” to “PR Hero”: Why Sonu Sood is Facing a Backlash on Social Media

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

It was not long ago that Bollywood actor Sonu Sood was hailed as the “Messiah of Migrants”. During the coronavirus lockdown, he single-handedly helped thousands of migrants reach home when the state administration was struggling with the issue. Over the course of the next few months, he continued to provide food packets, access to timely healthcare and educational equipment to those in need. Sonu Sood became a real-life “hero” for a lot of people, got a lot of love from social media, and almost created a new fanbase for himself overnight.

However, the philanthropist-actor is now facing backlash, and the same social media that made him a humanitarian role model has started demonising him. It started with a politicisation of his efforts, and has now spiralled into raising questions about the “help” being provided by him, with many labelling it as PR activity. 

On Sunday, the actor promised medical help to Twitter user Snehal Misal, whose son is affected by pulmonary stenosis. He promised her that her son would be admitted to SRCC Hospital in Mumbai the next day, and his surgery would be scheduled this week. Some social media users found this “fishy”, since that was the only tweet from the account and Sonu Sood hadn’t been tagged in the tweet.

Sonu Sood was quick to point out that it was about “intentions” and the whole point of his initiative was that even someone with 2-3 followers could get help from a man with lots of followers. The actor also shared a screengrab of an Excel sheet, which listed down names of people who needed help.

While many came to the actor’s defence and stated that he doesn’t need to explain himself, few people took further issue with the screengrab, stating that the timestamp in the Excel file was a month prior to the actual tweet. Some asked whether the person was forced to make a Twitter account so Sonu Sood could reply to him to collect brownie points. As long as he is out there helping people and bringing tangible changes into their lives, how does it matter?

This is not the first time eyebrows have been raised over Sonu Sood’s help efforts. In the first week of June, some users pointed out that many accounts that sought help from the actor, and to whom he had replied, had mysteriously gone missing from the platform. Apparently, hundreds of such accounts had been deleted and Sonu Sood was trolled in relation to it on social media.

In an interview to The Quint, Sonu Sood said, “I feel a lot of people have already reached their destinations and received the help, and since their numbers are on social media they were probably receiving calls. So I think that’s why some were deleted, so that the numbers don’t stay on the internet. Secondly, there are a lot of people who just want to check and when they get a call from us, they delete the tweets saying that we just wanted to get in touch with you.”

Sonu Sood requested people to send requests that were only genuine and also called out some fake accounts seeking monetary donations in his name. He pointed out that this hampers their operation and ability to help those actually in need.

Sonu Sood’s efforts are recorded on camera, and attested to by many people who received them first-hand. But we are now suspect of anyone who tries to help and doesn’t have an “underlying motive” to it. He was a hero until he shared a critical cartoon, and then the questioning and demonising began. “Why is he going out of his way to help? What is he gaining from this? Is this his entry to politics?” 

It might seem like a radical idea but maybe, he has the resources, and he just wants to genuinely help.

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