Words: Rohan Pasricha
Photography: Sameer Belvalkar
Hair Team: Hakim’s Aalim
Makeup: Raju Chavan
Fashion & Beauty Direction: Chandrakala Sanap
Styling: Amrita Saluja
Location: The Westin Mumbai Garden City
Styling Assistant: Akshata Saluja
Photography Assistant: Rahul Karandikar, Anish Patwardhan, Harshal Gaikwad, Rupesh Ahire
Behind the scenes: Mitalee Deshpande
Shoot Co-ordination: Prachi Rathi
“WORKING OUT IS INTEGRAL TO MY LIFE. I HAD SIX PACKS EVEN IN COLLEGE WHEN IT WAS UNHEARD OF! FITNESS IS SOMETHING THAT CANNOT BE COMPROMISED”
MEET SONU SOOD, A MAN WHO’S FOUND HIS FOOTING NOT JUST IN BOLLYWOOD, BUT TAMIL, TELUGU, PUNJABI, AND KANNADA CINEMA TOO
“Hair check!” I hear a booming baritone as I enter the plush presidential suite at Mumbai’s Westin hotel in Goregaon. Sonu Sood, our cover man, is in all his elements. Loud music is blaring through the speakers, and there’s plenty of coffee around to keep the energy levels high. Sonu doesn’t seem to need any of it though. One of the fittest actors in Bollywood, he’s naturally high on adrenaline, effortlessly posing for one photograph after the other. Some 1 million clicks later, we meet and his firm handshake nearly crushes my delicate, never-worked out hands. The man is pure muscle. Hoping that he doesn’t challenge me to an impromptu fitness contest, I quickly begin our interview. Sonu is a rank outsider in the industry, and he’s made a name for himself with no previous backing or a godfather. I ask him about his journey and his reply is laden with humility: “When I finished my engineering, and I told my parents I want to go to Mumbai and start my career as an actor, I had my reservations that they’ll probably tell me that I’m the only son and I need to take care of the family business. But they were actually hugely supportive.
They encouraged me to pursue my dream and give it my 100 percent.” Sonu reminisces about his early days, when things weren’t going as he expected. “I remember sitting with my parents and telling them how I’m trying my best but still there’s no real success yet. My father simply told me that I had made this choice and now there should be no looking back or giving up. That inspired me, and of course, the wishes and blessings of my parents. Whatever little I have achieved in my life is only because of them.” There’s no denying that Sonu’s physique is the talk of B-town, and I imagine his daily workout routine to be a rather grueling one.
However, fitness has been an integral part of Sonu’s life since his teenage years, even years before he decided to become an actor. “I had six packs in my first year of college, at a time when people hadn’t even heard of the trend! In fact, it’s my dedication to having a fit body that made my friends encourage me to pursue a career in modelling and acting. For me, fitness is something that cannot be compromised. It’s like getting up in the morning and brushing your teeth. I work out 2-3 hours daily.” The fact that Sonu has managed to build his body on a strict vegetarian diet is even more impressive. “I remember on the sets of Dabangg how Salman Khan kept trying to vegetarian. I don’t think either will happen in this lifetime,” says Sonu with a smile. Sonu is the face of the ‘Fit India Movement’ of the Government of India, and he’s proud to talk about it. “We’re providing nutrition diets and exercise plans to the interiors of the country, where a lot of people know nothing about vitamins, and other important food sources. It’s been a great journey so far.” When you hear the name Sonu Sood, the character that immediately comes to mind is that of Chedi Singh in Dabangg, for which he even won an IIFA award, along with other accolades. I ask him whether it was difficult for him to get into the skin of a rustic goon. “Playing Chedi Singh was great fun, and not hard at all. I have a lot of friends who speak in that dialect, and I picked up a lot of mannerisms from them. Even the now famous cycle step that you see in the hit song, I created it impromptu while shooting.
We all would shoot and then break into laughter. It was all improvisation. No rehearsals.” Do awards matter for actors? Sonu replies nonchalantly, “Whenever we do movies, we never think of awards, recognition and all those things. A great character or role just simply gets created. Chedi Singh, for example, is something that we created without any expectations, and it just clicked with the audience. It’s all about the magic and how you feel it. For example, when Dabangg 2 was narrated, I didn’t feel that connected to the magic element so I refused. Even in my struggling days, I’ve said no to directors if I haven’t been completely convinced about my role. I feel rejuvenated with my family around me.”
Sonu is excited about his upcoming projects – Paltan, Manikarnika, and Simba. “Paltan is complete and will be out soon. Working with JP Dutta is always special. He had signed me in 2008, and after 10 years this film was made. It’s a very special project. Manikarnika is special too, and working with Kangana is always great. Simba is an out and out action-comedy film and that’s my favourite genre. It’s my space and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.” Sonu feels that the professionalism of the southern film industry has slowly but surely trickled into Bollywood too. “Initially it was a little haphazard, but with a lot of technicians from the south coming here, there’s been that sense of a professional work environment and everything runs on time. We now even know the exact release dates of a movie while shooting, and that’s great.
They still take it a little easy as compared to the South, but we’re getting there.” Any advice to aspiring actors or directors? “It’s a tough life but if you’re ready to face it and give it your best, don’t let what other people say influence you. For me, it was destiny. There was no other option but to be an actor.” Our publisher Abhishek chimes in with a final question on how actors today are evolving from just being actors to producers, singers, editors, writers, dancers and whatnot. Is that difficult? To which Sonu signs off, “Not really. It’s all about the teamwork so it’s important to keep learning and know everything today. At the end of the day, as long as the film works, I think it helps everyone.” And that’s a wrap.