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It is not just about show business in Bollywood. Some film celebrities do their bit to support humanitarian causes—be it by contributing their time or money, by setting up foundations or engaging with existing ones.

As a young girl growing up in Indore, Palak Muchhal, now 23, would sing at roadside shows to help raise funds for the families of soldiers who had been killed in the Kargil War, and for the victims of the Odisha cyclone of 1999.

“There are so many people who want to help but don’t know how to. I was fortunate to have been able to use my singing talent to support the causes I believed in," says the voice behind Bollywood hits like Meri Aashiqui and Chahun Main Ya Na from Aashiqui 2 and Teri Meri Kahaani from Gabbar Is Back.

Through charity shows over the last 16 years, Muchhal has been able to sponsor 800 heart surgeries. Initially, she would accept cheques or demand drafts in the name of hospitals where these surgeries were conducted. In 2013, however, she set up the Palak Muchhal Heart Foundation. Currently, it has 412 children on its waiting list for heart transplants.

“You take personal interest and the impact is bigger. You’re involved in the smallest of things. For example, at Salman (Khan) sir’s Being Human Foundation, if he pays for one child’s heart surgery, he might also fund their sibling’s education and so on," says Muchhal

For actor Vivek Oberoi, 39, who grew up listening to stories of his grandparents committing to various causes and watching his parents do the same, giving has been an integral part of life. From tying up with Apollo Hospitals for 128 surgeries for children under the SACH (Save a Child’s Heart) programme, rebuilding homes and villages in tsunami-hit areas in 2004, to running ONE (the Oberoi Nation Building and Empowerment) Foundation, Oberoi has been associated with several social endeavours. Project DEVI (the Development and Empowerment of Vrindavan Girls Initiative), which runs schools for underprivileged girls in Vrindavan, is one such project. “Our kids in Vrindavan... have travelled to the UK. It’s an incredible feeling to see them return confident and motivated...," says Oberoi. In 2011, four children from the Sandipani Muni School, a school started by Oberoi’s foundation in Vrindavan, went on an educational exchange programme to The Discovery Academy in the UK.

This year, Oberoi has started “Set Beautiful Free", an initiative under ONE to provide shelter and education to children of sex workers from Mumbai’s Kamathipura area. “Once (you’re) involved deeply in such work, you see it’s a beautiful addiction" he says.

Actor, director and activist Nandita Das, who has a master’s in social work, would probably agree. Das has worked with various civil society organizations and directed public service advertisements on topics like water harvesting and education, among core issues.

She has been associated with the Joy of Giving/DaanUtsav week, organized by Venkat Krishnan N. every year in October with the aim of encouraging the culture of giving. Das says she has realized that one doesn’t need to be an activist or work with a civil society organization to bring about change. “It’s important to find an issue, an organization that speaks to you. You just have to contribute in some way with the skills you possess. Like Gandhiji said, ‘Be the change you want to see,’" she says.

Actor Dia Mirza supports organizations like the Cancer Patients Aid Association, ADAPT (Able, Disable All People Together, formerly known as The Spastics Society of India), Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and Teach For Change, a Hyderabad-based initiative that helps people volunteer and teach at government schools. “If we can learn to be compassionate, we will see the world differently," she says. “There are many ways to bring a change and no, it’s not about just making a donation. It is about jumping in and using your strengths, beliefs, values and time to make a difference."

Charitable organizations, in turn, recognize the value of a celebrity’s presence. “Half of our target population today comprises the youth," says Rituparna Sengupta, senior manager, brand, media and campaigns, World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature. “When Arjun Kapoor talks to youngsters about Earth Hour, it not just inspires them but gives the brand great visibility and the cause a fillip."

Matthew Spacie, founder of Magic Bus, a child-mentoring non-profit organization, agrees, “A celebrity coming on board is a validation of who you are. It really puts you out there in the public domain and brings in lots of engagement."

That is the goal actor and model Gul Panag is also working towards. Panag runs a charitable organization, The Col. Shamsher Singh Foundation. Named after her grandfather, the foundation works on issues such as environment conservation and gender. In 2011, she created a social media platform called SOAP (Social Outreach Accreditation Program), which partners with companies, non-profits and volunteers to encourage empathy towards social causes. SOAP allows individuals to create their own social service projects and find like-minded individuals to come on board or partner with.

“I believe India is a charitable country but it’s unfair to expect empathy from people who haven’t seen the different realities," Panag says.

“And no matter what it does, the government alone can’t bridge this gap between unequals. Anything we do to change things in this unequal world helps us sleep a little better," says the actor.

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