Tom Alter: A Journey From Mussoorie To Mumbai

“My friends are surprised even today about why I chose to become an actor,” said Tom Alter in a TV interview.

He died of battling with IV stage Skin Cancer at the age of 67 on Friday. Alas! India lost one great artist, journalist, writer, director, Shayar and a cricket enthusiast. A ‘Desi-Firangi’ with an Indian heart left people astound with his ability to recite impeccable Urdu Nazm and Shayari besides his memorable roles in Bollywood movies and Hindustani theater.

The Padma Shri awardee was the native of Mussoorie, Uttarakhand and was born in 1950, three years after independence. During the partition of India, his father finally settled in a small town Rajpur near Dehradun where he studied Hindi and later came to be referred as ‘Blue-eyed sahib with impeccable Hindi’.

Carried away by the film ‘Aradhana’ starred Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore he decided and enrolled himself in Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. The list of his valuable contribution to the Indian cinema is, in fact, responsible for making headways in Bollywood. Worked in over 300 films, TV shows, plays, he earned huge name and respect in the heart of Indians who was once stereotyped as an abiding British man.

Tom Alter
Tom Alter as Mahaguru in Shaktimaan

‘90s kids may still have the clear memory of their childhood’s awaited TV shows featured Tom in Shaktimaan as Mahaguru, Captain Vyom, Betaal Pachisi to name a few.


Indian actor of American descent, Alter, made his film acting debut in 1976 with Ramanand Sagar’s directorial venture ‘Charas’, Satyajit Ray’s ‘Shatranj ke Khiladi’ gave him a big break and later noted for his most celebrated role as a British Officer in ‘Kranti’.

He worked with famous directors of 70s and 80s, V. Shantaram, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Manmohan Desai, Subhash Ghai. Vidhu Vinod Chopra was the one who gave him critically acclaimed hit in ‘Parinda’.

He made his debut in regional cinema in 1977 with Kannada films. He also acted in Bengali, Assamese, Gujarati, Telegu, Tamil films. His later work witnessed in Yash Chopra’s Veer Zara, Mahesh Bhatt’s Aashiqui, Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey, Bheja Fry.

The list goes on….


Alter was closely involved in theatre throughout his career. He co-founded Motley Productions with Naseeruddin Shah and Gilani in 1979. His well-known Urdu plays include “Maulana”, “Babur ke Aulaad”, “Lal Qile ka Aakhri Mushaira”, “Ghalib ke Khat”. Also played Ghalib in ‘Ghalib in Delhi’.

Tom Alter
Tom Alter As Galib

In early 2017, Alter enacted in various plays in Hindi, English, and Urdu titled ‘Jashn-e-Maazi: The Play of History’


His penchant for cricket and sports led him to interview Sachin Tendulkar, before his debut as a cricketer for India. His last film was “Sargoshiyan” with Alok Nath and Farida Jalal. The film released in May this year.

Tom Alter was indeed a man who lived many lives in one, his life’s journey from Mussoorie to Mumbai is a lesson whose pages generation would turn and remember him for the memories he created and gifted to Indian culture. A hero who will be praised forevermore for his great contributions.

RIP Tom Alter!

Eva Varshney

A noncompos mentis with a penchant for Renaissance exploring chaos apart from pursuing Mass Communication and Journalism from Aligarh Muslim University. Improvised Anchor I am.

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