Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Many Faces of Tom Alter

"I've acted in over 250 India films in the last 33 years and it still amazes me that people ask if I knew Hindi.", he muses. "Although 50% of the roles I have done are for the money, I have only acted in 10 films as the quintessential Angrez but been bracketed as one for years. Nobody wonders about the balance 240 films in which I don't play an angrez speaking bad Hindi." Says the actor perhaps best remembered for his role as the sensitive Captain Weston in Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977).

Perhaps the best known face of the angrez (Englishman) in the hindi film industry, Tom was born in India at Mussoorie and went on to ultimately do a course at Pune's FTII (Film and Television Institute of India).

His first role in a feature film was in Charas (1976) and his latest, is in Alag (2006). Tom looks for a certain something in the characters he plays for the sake of the role. "If the role is meaty, I like to see some change, some colours in the personality. I like to see growth and change in the character. If I see that in the script, then I get very excited about the role, whether it has negative shade or positive ones."he says.

Tom has not only done Hindi movies, but also many regional films, including three Malayalam Movies ( I.V.Sasi's 1921, Priyadarshan's Kaala Pani and a film called Oru Thooval Pakshikal). Besides these, he has done two Bengali and one Kannada Movie, the latter was M.S. Sathyu's Kanneshwara Rama where he co-starred with Anant Nag, Shabana Azmi and Amol Palekar.

More recently, Tom has been part of two exciting theatre projects, an Urdu solo on Maulana Azad and the other, 'Mahatma and the Poetess' on the letters between Mahatma Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu.

Not many people know that Tom has also written three books. The first, a book on cricket called The Best In the World, was co-authored by Ayaz Memon. His other two books are novels, Rerun at Rialto and The Longest Race, both set in his hometown, Mussoorie. "I want people to read with the same passion with which I write. I wrote 'The Longest Race' in a particular way, it is very critical of the athletic system." He says

Which brings us to his passion for sports, especially cricket that he also plays. He has also written extensively for Sportsweek. As a sports enthusiast, he has been credited with organising the first national triathlon in the 1990s with swimmer Anita Sood and swimming coach, the late Sandeep Divgikar.

"While my publisher has asked me to write another novel, what I really want to write about is change.", he says, "It's a strong thread that runs through my books. More importantly, I'm questioning if so much change is really necessary. Things are changing, but are they improving? The more the changes, the faster the spiral. " he says.

(an edited version published in the November 2006 issue of At A Glance. Photograph by author.)

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