Tom Alter

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Tom Alter
Tom Alter at Dev Anand's birthday celebrations.jpg
Alter in 2012
Born (1950-06-22) 22 June 1950 (age 67)
Mussoorie, Uttar Pradesh, India (now in Uttarakhand)
Occupation Actor
Years active 1976–present
Spouse(s) Carol Evans (m. 1977)
Children 2
Relatives Martha Chen (sister)

Thomas Beach "Tom" Alter (born 22 June 1950) is an Indian actor of American descent. He is a television actor, best known for his work in Bollywood,[1][2] and the theatre.[3]

In 2008, he was awarded Padma Shri by the Indian government.[4][5]

Early life[edit]

A native of Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India,[6] Tom Alter is the son of American Christian missionaries of English and Scottish ancestry and has lived for years in Mumbai and the Himalayan hill station of Landour. His grandparents migrated to India from Ohio, United States in November 1916, when they arrived in Madras (now Chennai) by ship. From there, they went to Lahore by train, where they settled. His father was born in Sialkot, now in Pakistan.

After the Partition of India, his family too split into two - his grandparents remained in Pakistan while his parents moved to India. After living in Allahabad, Jabalpur and Saharanpur, they finally settled in Rajpur, Uttar Pradesh, a small town located between Dehradun and Mussoorie (in present-day Uttarakhand) in 1954. His elder sister Martha Chen has a PhD in South Asian Studies from University of Pennsylvania and teaches at Harvard [7] and his brother John is a poet and a teacher.[1]

As a child, Alter studied Hindi among other subjects in Mussoorie, consequently, he has occasionally been referred to as the "Blue-eyed saheb with impeccable Hindi."[8] He was educated in Mussoorie's Woodstock School. His father taught history and English at the Christian college (E.C.C), Allahabad, and thereafter taught at a seminary in Saharanpur. In 1954, his parents started an ashram in Rajpur, called "Massihi Dhyaan Kendra" and they settled there. People of all religions came there for studies and discussions. They would initially recite biblical studies in Urdu and subsequently in Hindi (when Hindi was adopted in 1962).

At 18, Alter left for the US for higher education and studied at Yale for a year. However, he did not like the rigor of the studies at Yale and returned after a year. At the age of 19, Alter obtained work as a teacher, at St. Thomas School, Jagadhri, in Haryana. He worked here for six months, simultaneously coaching his students in cricket. Over the next two and a half years, Alter worked several jobs, teaching for a while at Woodstock School, Mussoorie and working at a hospital in America, and returning to India and continuing to work at Jagadhri. At Jagadhri, he started to watch Hindi movies at the two solitary cinema theaters near Jagadhri - Jagadhri talkies and Yamuna Nagar talkies.

It was during this time that he saw the Hindi film Aradhana, a film that he and his friends liked so much that they saw it thrice in a week's time. This viewing marked a turning point in Alter's life and watching Rajesh Khanna's and Sharmila Tagore's acting attracted young Alter to films. He contemplated pursuing an acting career and mulled over this thought for two years, after which he headed to Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, where he studied acting from 1972 to 1974 under Roshan Taneja.[9] He confessed in a 2009 interview, "I still dream of being Rajesh Khanna. For me, in the early 1970s, he was the only hero — romantic to the core, not larger than life, so Indian and real — he was my hero; the reason I came into films and he still is."[10] In another interview, he said, "There was something very warm about Jagadhri. I remained a teacher there until the day I watched Rajesh Khanna romance Sharmila in Aradhana. That was the beginning of my addiction to the cinema."[11] Alter credits his accomplishments in acting to these two years at FTII, Roshan Taneja's teaching there and interactions with other students including Naseeruddin Shah, Benjamin Gilani and Shabana Azmi.



Alter is fluent in Hindi, Urdu and knowledgeable of Indian culture. He can also read Urdu and is fond of Urdu shayari.[9] He has worked for noted filmmakers like Satyajit Ray in Shatranj Ke Khilari and is remembered for his role as a British officer in Kranti. In Sardar, the 1993 film biography of Indian leader Sardar Patel, which focused on the events surrounding the partition and independence of India, Alter portrayed Lord Mountbatten of Burma.[12] He also acted in Hollywood movie One Night with the King with Peter O'Toole.

In 1996 he appeared in the Assamese film Adajya, and in 2007 acted in the theatrical reproduction of William Dalrymple's City of Djinns alongside Zohra Sehgal and Manish Joshi Bismil. He also appeared in a solo play Maulana, based on Maulana Azad for which he has received much critical acclaim. He has also received praise for his role in the art film Ocean of An Old Man, which has been screened at film festivals around the world.

Alter has also acted in the role of a doctor in Bheja Fry, a comedy movie starring Rajat Kapoor.

In April 2011, he acted in a short film Yours, Maria directed by Chirag Vadgama playing the lead role of Matthew Chacha in the movie.

Alter has lent his voice for authorised audio autobiography of Dr. Verghese Kurien, titled The Man Who Made The Elephant Dance which was released in 2012.

TV series[edit]

Alter appeared in many Indian TV serials, including Sanvidhaan (Rajya Sabha TV), all of which were praised by audience for his acting. In Zabaan Sambhalke he played the role of a British writer, Charles Spencers, who lives in India and wants to learn Hindi language. He acted in TV series Khamosh Sa Afsana (as a Husain Baba), telecast on Doordarshan in 2014-15. In November 2014, he played Sahir Ludhianvi in a stage production based on life and work of the famous Urdu poet and film-lyricist. He also played a school teacher in Yahan Ke Hum Sikandar.[3] Alter has also worked as the red robe guru in Mukesh Khanna's TV production Shaktiman (1998–2002). He has also played Indian characters in Indian television series, such as the long-running Junoon, in which he was the sadistic mob lord Keshav Kalsi.[12]


Alter is also a prolific theatre actor. In 1977 he along with Naseeruddin Shah and Benjamin Gilani formed a theatre group called Motley Productions. Their first play was Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot, which was staged at Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai, on 29 July 1979. He has been performing at Prithvi Theatre ever since, his latest being an adaptation of Vaikom Muhammad Basheer's My Grandad had an Elephant which was performed on 7 June 2011. He has also worked with the New Delhi theatre group Pierrot's Troupe.[3]

In Ghalib In Delhi he played the role of Mirza Ghalib, the great erstwhile Urdu poet.[13]

He is the lead actor in "Once Upon A Time" a collection of five short stories presented as vignettes, directed by Sujata Soni Bali, and co-starring prominent stage actor and TV personality Sunit Tandon. The production was last staged in Mumbai on 17 June 2017.

Writing and journalism[edit]

Alter has written books including The Longest Race, Rerun at Rialto, and The Best in the World. He is also a sports journalist with a special interest in cricket, a game on which he has written extensively in publications such as Sportsweek, Outlook, Cricket Talk, Sunday Observer and Debonair. He plays cricket for a film industry team MCC (Match Cut Club), which includes Naseeruddin Shah, Satish Shah, Vishal Bhardwaj, Aamir Khan, Nana Patekar, Bhupinder Singh and Amarinder Sangha. He also wrote on cricket in Indian publications. In 1996, he was invited by friend Siraj Syed to Singapore, to do cricket commentary in Hindi, for Indian viewers, on the sports TV channel, ESPN.

Personal life[edit]

Alter married Carol Evans in 1977. They have two children together: son Jamie and daughter Afshaan.[14] Jamie has worked as a cricket writer for ESPNcricinfo and CricBuzz and is currently sports editor with Times Of .[15][16] As a cricket enthusiast himself, Tom wrote columns for newspapers and journals for over ten years.[17] He also worked as a journalist during the time and was the first to video interview Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar in 1988.[18]

Alter is a life member of International Film And Television Club & International Film And Television Research Centre of Asian Academy of Film & Television. Alter's first cousin Stephen Alter, also born and raised in India, is an author and teacher. Both are graduates of Woodstock School, Mussoorie. In 2017, he was diagnosed with Stage IV skin cancer.[19]


Year Film Role Other notes
2017 Rishton Ka Chakravyuh Somdev Guruji Hindi TV series (4 Episodes)
2017 Sargoshiyan Alan Alter Hindi film
2017 Redrum Eric Fernandez Hindi film
2016 Anuragakarikkinvellam Boss Malayalam film
2014 Yahan Ke Hum Sikandar [20] Samuel Hindi TV series
2014 Daptar - The School Bag[21] Magic Uncle Marathi language film
2014 Honour Killing Mr. Smith
2013 The Corner Table George Miller English short film
2012 Kevi Rite Jaish Uncle Sam / Derek Thomas Gujarati language film
2012 M Cream Mr. Bhardawaj English/Hindi film
2012 Life Ki Toh Lag Gayi
2011 With Love, Delhi! Historian (Kidnapper) English film
2011 Son of Flower Major James Edwards English film
2011 Cycle Kick Football Coach English film
2011 Yours Maria Matthew Chacha Short Film
2010 Muigwithania Major David English film
2010 Jaanleva Mr. Malhotra
2009 Avatar Aditional Na'vi people British-Australian-American film
2008 Ocean of an Old Man Thomas - Teacher English film
2008 Colours of Passion Rang Rasiya Justice Richards
2007 Kailashey Kelenkari Sol Silverstein Bengali film
2007 Bheja Fry Dr. Shepherd
2006 One Night with the King King Saul (prologue) English film
2006 Alag: He Is Different.... He Is Alone.... Dr. Richard Dyer
2005 The Hangman Father Mathew
2005 The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey Watson
2005 Viruddh... Family Comes First Anderson (British Consultate)
2005 Bose the foregotton hero Governor Jackson
2004 Loknayak Abul Kalam Azad
2004 Veer-Zaara Doctor
2004 Asambhav Brian
2004 Aetbaar Dr. Freddie
2004 Ghar Grihasti Drug smuggler
2004 Mitter Pyare Nu Haal Mureedan Da Kehna Ghosht Khan
2004 Silence Please... The Dressing Room Cricket coach Ivan Rodrigues English film
2003 Yeh Hai Chakkad Bakkad Bumbe Bo
2003 Hawayein
2003 Hatim King of Paristan Hindi TV series
2003 Dhund: The Fog Uncle Tom
2002 Love at Times Square
2002 Dil Vil Pyar Vyar Special Appearance
2002 Bharat Bhagya Vidhata Mohammed Jalaudin Ghaznavi
2001 On Wings of Fire English film
1997 Shaktimaan Maha Guru
1997 Captain Vyom Vishwapramukh
1997 Betaal Pachisi Hindi TV series
1996 Adajya Mark Sahib Assamese language film
1993-1997 Zabaan Sambhalke Charles Hindi TV series
1993 Sardar Lord Mountbatten
1992 Junoon Harry
1990 Aashiqui Arnie Campbell
1989 Parinda Musa
1989 Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro Johan - (Jani Hippi)
1988 Sone Pe Suhaaga A doctor
1986 Karma Rexon
1985 Ram Teri Ganga Maili Karam Singh (Ganga's Brother)
1982 Gandhi A doctor English film
1981 Kranti British Officer
1978 Des Pardes Inspector Martin
1977 Hum Kisise Kum Naheen Jack
1977 Kanneshwara Rama British Superintendent of police Kannada film
1977 Ram Bharose
1977 Shatranj Ke Khilari Capt. Weston
1976 Charas Chief Custom Officer


  1. ^ a b "No ‘Alter’native". Screen. 9 May 2008. 
  2. ^ Hazarika, Sanjoy (6 July 1989). "An American Star Of the Hindi Screen". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c "Features / Metro Plus : Tom Tom". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 9 August 2008. 
  4. ^ "Multifaceted actor Tom Alter to receive Padma Shri". India eNews. 25 January 2008. 
  5. ^ "Woodstock School News". Woodstock School India. 2 January 2008. 
  6. ^ "Tom Alter". Paritosh Uttam. Retrieved 2011-08-07. 
  7. ^ "Curriculum Vitae of Marty Chen" (PDF). 
  8. ^ Zaman, Rana Siddiqui (13 October 2014). "Delhi is my second home: Tom Alter". The Hindu. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Guftagoo with Tom Alter (in Hindi). Rajya Sabha TV. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2017. 
  10. ^ "‘I still dream of being Rajesh Khanna'". The Hindu. 12 July 2009. 
  11. ^ "Chandigarh Stories". Tribune India. 2003-07-31. Retrieved 2011-08-07. 
  12. ^ a b "The Hindu : Metro Plus Delhi / Personality : Tom, unaltered". Retrieved 2016-07-02. 
  13. ^ "Actor Tom Alter as Mirza Ghalib". Little Black Book. 
  14. ^ "Tom Alter". Times of India. 2012-04-30. Retrieved 2012-08-12. 
  15. ^ "Author: Jamie Alter". Retrieved 4 May 2017. 
  16. ^ "News Articles by Jamie Alter". Retrieved 4 May 2017. 
  17. ^ "Tom Alter - Back In The News". 4 May 2011. Archived from the original on 8 May 2011. Retrieved 4 May 2017. 
  18. ^ Chandawarkar, Rahul (28 August 2005). "Telling a story in different ways". The Hindu. Retrieved 4 May 2017. 
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