Tom Alter

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Tom Alter
Tom Alter at Dev Anand's birthday celebrations.jpg
Alter in 2012
BornThomas Beach Alter
(1950-06-22)22 June 1950
Mussoorie, Uttar Pradesh, India
(now in Uttarakhand, India)
Died(2017-09-29)29 September 2017 (aged 67)
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Years active1976–2017
Spouse(s)Carol Evans
(m. 1977-2017; his death)
RelativesMartha Chen (sister)

Thomas Beach Alter (22 June 1950 – 29 September 2017)[1] was an Indian actor of American descent.[2] He was best known for his work in Hindi cinema[3][4] and the Indian theatre.[5]

In 2008, he was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India.[6][7]

Early life[edit]

Born in Mussoorie, Dehradun District, Uttarakhand,[8] Tom Alter was the son of American Christian missionaries of Swiss German ancestry and 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.[9] From there, they went to Lahore by train, where they settled. His father was born in Sialkot.[9] 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 1954 in Rajpur, Uttarakhand, then a small town located between Dehradun and Mussoorie; Rajpur is now considered a suburb of Dehradun. His elder sister, Martha Chen, has a PhD in South Asian Studies from University of Pennsylvania and teaches at Harvard University.[10] His brother John is a poet, chaplain and teacher at a boarding school in the U.S. state of Maryland, and has taught around the world, including in India.[3]

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."[11] 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, in the 1970s and 1980s they also rented a home in New Delhi, on account of their periodic visits to Delhi. 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 the US, and returning to India before continuing to work at Jagadhri. At Jagadhri, he began to watch Hindi films.[9]

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.[12] 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 (FTII) in Pune, where he studied acting from 1972 to 1974 under Roshan Taneja.[9] He credited 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 acknowledged, 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."[13] 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."[14] He disclosed in a 2017 interview that his major inspiration to act remained his idol Rajesh Khanna — "I came to Mumbai to become Rajesh Khanna; didn’t come to act on stage."[15]



After graduating from FTII, Alter headed straight to Bombay and soon got his first break in the Dev Anand starrer Saheb Bahadur (1977), directed by Chetan Anand. However, his first release was Ramanand Sagar's Charas. This was followed by roles in Ram Bharose, Hum Kisise Kum Nahin and Parvarish. He dubbed for actor Jeevan for the innocent person of the twin roles played by Jeevan in the film Amar Akbar Anthony.

Alter was fluent in Hindi and Urdu, and was knowledgeable about Indian culture. He could also read Urdu and was fond of Shayari.[9] He worked for noted filmmakers like Satyajit Ray in Shatranj Ke Khilari and is remembered for his role as a British officer in Kranti. He got the opportunity to act with his idol Rajesh Khanna in the film Naukri, directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee in 1978 and later in Chetan Anand's Kudrat. 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.[16] He also acted in the 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 William Dalrymple's City of Djinns alongside Zohra Sehgal and Manish Joshi Bismil. He also appeared in the solo play Maulana and the film Ocean of An Old Man.

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

Some of his most famous movie roles have been as Musa in Vidhu Vinod Chopra's acclaimed crime drama Parinda, Mahesh Bhatt's blockbuster romance Aashiqui, and Ketan Mehta's Sardar, in which Alter essayed the role of Lord Mountbatten.


Alter appeared in many Indian television series, including Samvidhaan, 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.[5] Alter has worked as the red robe guru in Mukesh Khanna's TV production Shaktiman (1998–2002). He played Indian characters in Indian television series, such as the long-running Junoon, in which he was the sadistic mob lord Keshav Kalsi.[16]


Alter was also a stage 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.[5]

In the early 2000s, he played the Indian freedom fighter, Maulana Azad, in a solo Urdu language play.[17]

In Ghalib In Delhi he played the role of Mirza Ghalib, the great erstwhile Urdu poet.[18]

He was 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 played 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. In addition to acting, Alter has also ventured into direction - he directed a one-shot episode for the short-lived series Yule Love Stories in the mid-1990s - and was a sports journalist in the late 1980s to early 1990s. He has written three books, one non-fiction and two fiction

Personal life[edit]

Alter married Carol Evans, a fellow Woodstock School student, in 1977 at St. Paul's Church in Char Dukan, Landour. They have two children together: son Jamie and daughter Afshaan.[19] Jamie has worked as a cricket writer for ESPNcricinfo[20] and CricBuzz,[21] and was also the sports editor of The Times of India.[22] As a cricket enthusiast himself, Tom wrote columns for newspapers and journals for over ten years.[23] He also worked as a journalist during the time and was the first to video interview Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar in 1988.[24]

Alter was a life member of International Film And Television Club & International Film And Television Research Centre of Asian Academy of Film & Television. Alter's son Jamie, also born and raised in India, lives in Noida whereas his daughter Afshaan and her husband live in the Boston area in the U.S. Both are graduates of Woodstock School, Mussoorie, as is their mother Carol Evans Alter, Tom's widow.


In September 2017, Alter was diagnosed with Stage IV skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma).[25] His thumb had been amputated a year earlier because of the condition.[26] He died on 29 September at his residence in Mumbai. A statement released on behalf of his family read: "It is with sadness we announce the death of our beloved Tom Alter, actor, writer, director, Padma Shri, and our dear husband and father. Tom passed away Friday night at home with his family and close family members in attendance. We ask for their privacy to be respected at this time."[27][28]


Year Film Role Notes
2018 The Black Cat English Film
2017 smoke Hindi film
2017 2016 The End Hindi film
2017 Sargoshiyan Alan Alter Hindi film
2017 Redrum Eric Fernandez Hindi film
2016 Life Flows On Tom English film
2016 Anuragakarikkinvellam Boss Malayalam film
2014 Daptar - The School Bag[29] Magic Uncle Marathi 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 Adeitional 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 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
1996 Adajya Mark Sahib Assamese language film
1993 Sardar Lord Mountbatten
1992 Junoon Harry
1990 Pahari Kanya Doctor Assamese language film
1990 Aashiqui Arnie Campbell
1989 Parinda Musa
1989 Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro Johan - (Jani Hippi)
1988 Khoon Bhari Maang A doctor (Plastic Surgeon) Special Appearences
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
1982 Brij Bhoomi Guest Brajbhasha 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 Parvarish Supremo's 2nd in Command.
1977 Ram Bharose
1977 Shatranj Ke Khilari Capt. Weston
1976 Charas Chief Custom Officer

TV Series[edit]

Period Name Role Genre Channel Notes
2018 Wilderness Days Anchor Wildlife TV Series Epic Hindi Language
2017 Rishton Ka Chakravyuh Somdev Guruji Soap-opera, Drama STAR Plus
2011-2013 Yahan Ke Hum Sikandar[30] Samuel Drama DD National
2003-2004 Hatim King of Paristan Action, Adventure, Drama, Thriller STAR Plus Hindi, Urdu, Tamil languages
1998-2005 Shaktiman Mahaguru DD National
1998-1999 Captain Vyom Vishwapramukh Science-fiction, Action DD National
1997-1998 Betaal Pachisi Harry Fantasy DD National
1994-1998 Junoon Keshav Kalsi Drama DD Metro
1993-1997 Zabaan Sambhalke Charles Spencers Sitcom DD Metro Home TV


  1. ^ "Actor Tom Alter Dies Of Cancer At 67". NDTV. 30 September 2017. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  2. ^ "Tom Alter (1950-2017): The on-screen 'firangi' who remained forever Indian".
  3. ^ a b "No 'Alter'native". Screen. 9 May 2008.
  4. ^ Hazarika, Sanjoy (6 July 1989). "An American Star Of the Hindi Screen". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  5. ^ a b c "Features / Metro Plus: Tom Tom". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 9 August 2008.
  6. ^ "Multifaceted actor Tom Alter to receive Padma Shri". India eNews. 25 January 2008.
  7. ^ "Woodstock School News". Woodstock School India. 2 January 2008. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011.
  8. ^ "Tom Alter". Paritosh Uttam. Archived from the original on 22 May 2006. Retrieved 7 August 2011.
  9. ^ a b c d e Guftagoo with Tom Alter (in Hindi). Rajya Sabha TV. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  10. ^ "Curriculum Vitae of Marty Chen" (PDF). Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  11. ^ Zaman, Rana Siddiqui (13 October 2014). "Delhi is my second home: Tom Alter". The Hindu. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  12. ^ "A Haryana town friend recalls the night show that led Tom Alter the teacher to show biz".
  13. ^ "'I still dream of being Rajesh Khanna'". The Hindu. 12 July 2009.
  14. ^ "Chandigarh Stories". Tribune India. 2003-07-31. Retrieved 2011-08-07.
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b "The Hindu : Metro Plus Delhi / Personality : Tom, unaltered". Retrieved 2016-07-02.
  17. ^ Padnani, Amisha (6 October 2017). "Tom Alter, Blue-Eyed Star of Bollywood Films, Dies at 67". The New York Times.
  18. ^ "Actor Tom Alter as Mirza Ghalib". Little Black Book. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  19. ^ "Tom Alter". Times of India. 2012-04-30. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  20. ^ "Author: Jamie Alter". Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  21. ^ "News Articles by Jamie Alter". Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  22. ^ "Jamie Alter: Times of India Reporter". The Times of India. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  23. ^ "Tom Alter - Back In The News". 4 May 2011. Archived from the original on 8 May 2011. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  24. ^ Chandawarkar, Rahul (28 August 2005). "Telling a story in different ways". The Hindu. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  25. ^ "Tom Alter diagnosed with skin cancer". The Hindu. 11 September 2017. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  26. ^ "Tom Alter Battling Stage 4 Skin Cancer, Confirms Son Jamie". NDTV. 11 September 2017. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  27. ^ "Actor Tom Alter dies of skin cancer at 67". Hindustan Times. 30 September 2017.
  28. ^ "Tom Alter, Padma Shri actor and writer, dies aged 67". Times of India. 30 September 2017.
  29. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  30. ^

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