Tom Alter
Alter in 2016
Thomas Beach Alter

(1950-06-22)22 June 1950
Died29 September 2017(2017-09-29) (aged 67)
Years active1975–2017
Carol Evans
(m. 1977)

Thomas Beach Alter (22 June 1950 – 29 September 2017)[1] was an Indian actor.[2] He was best known for his works in Hindi cinema,[3][4] and Indian theatre.[5] In 2008, he was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India.[6][7]

Early life

Born in Mussoorie in present-day Uttarakhand,[8] Alter was the son of American Presbyterian missionaries of English, Scottish and Swiss German ancestry and lived for years in Mumbai and the Himalayan hill station of Landour. His grandparents migrated to Madras, India from Ohio, U.S., in November 1916.[9] From there, they moved to and settled in Lahore, in present-day Pakistan. His father was born in Sialkot.[9] After the Partition of India, Alter's family too split into two; his grandparents chose to stay in Pakistan while his parents moved to India. After living in Allahabad, Jabalpur and Saharanpur, in 1954 they finally settled in Rajpur, Uttarakhand, then a small town located between Dehradun and Mussoorie; Rajpur is now considered a suburb of Dehradun. Alter's siblings are older sister Martha Chen, who teaches at Harvard University[10] and brother John, a poet.[3] Author Stephen Alter is a first cousin.

As a child, Alter studied Hindi among other subjects in Mussoorie. Consequently, he came to be occasionally referred to as the "Blue-eyed saheb with impeccable Hindi."[11] He was educated in Mussoorie's Woodstock School. At 18, Alter left for the U.S. for higher education and studied at Yale University for a year before returning to India upon losing interest in studies. The following year, he obtained work as a teacher at St. Thomas School, Jagadhri, in Haryana. He worked there 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 U.S., 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, which proved to be a turning point in his career and drifted towards a career in acting, inspired by the lead actor Rajesh Khanna.[12] He headed to Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, where he studied acting from 1972 to 1974 under Roshan Taneja.[9] In a 2017 interview, he recalled, "I came to Mumbai to become Rajesh Khanna; didn't come to act on stage."[13]



After graduating from FTII, Alter headed straight to Mumbai (formerly known as 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 Des Pardes, 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.[14] 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 played 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 authorized 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.

His last film was Hamari Paltan (2018).[15]


Alter appeared in many Indian television series, including Samvidhaan, all of which were praised by the audience for his acting.[citation needed] In Zabaan Sambhalke he played the role of a British writer, Charles Spencers, who lives in India and wants to learn the Hindi language. He acted in the 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 the life and work of the famous Urdu poet and film lyricist. He also played a schoolteacher in Yahan Ke Hum Sikandar.[5] Alter has worked as the red robe guru in Mukesh Khanna's TV production Shaktimaan (1998–2002). Also, he appeared in Contiloe & Cinevistaas show Ssshhhh...Koi Hai in 2002–03. He played Indian characters in Indian television series, such as the long-running Junoon, in which he was the sadistic mob lord Keshav Kalsi. He anchored "Adabi Cocktail" in 2000 telecast on Urdu Television Network and interviewed Johny Walker, Naushad, TunTun, Hasan Kamaal, Adnan Sami, Jagdeep, Naqsh layalpuri and many more.[14]

Tom Alter as Zafar


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Alter was also a stage actor. In 1977, he, 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, Bombay, on 29 July 1979. He went on to appear in many other plays at the theatre, including 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 independence activist Maulana Azad in a one-man Urdu-language play.[16]

In Ghalib In Delhi, he played the role of Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib.[17]

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

Alter has written books including The Longest Race, Rerun at Rialto, and The Best in the World.[citation needed] He was 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, Firstpost, Citizen, 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.[citation needed] 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 also ventured into a 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. Before his sudden death, Alter had just announced his inaugural feature film as a director called Rerun at Rialto, which was based on the book written by him.[citation needed]

Personal life

Alter married Carol Evans, a fellow Woodstock School student, in 1977. The marriage produced two children: son Jamie and daughter Afshaan.[18] Jamie[19] 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]

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."[27][28]



Year Title Role Notes
1975 Mrig Trishna Colonel Lawrence
1976 Charas Chief Custom Officer
1976 Laila Majnu
1977 Shatranj Ke Khilari Capt. Weston
1977 Hum Kisise Kum Naheen Jack
1977 Parvarish Mr. Jackson, Supremo's 2nd in Command
1977 Saheb Bahadur
1977 Ram Bharose Tom
1977 Kanneshwara Rama British Superintendent of police Kannada film
1977 Chani Marathi Movie
1978 Atyachaar
1978 Naukri Mr. Anderson
1978 Des Pardes Inspector Martin
1978 Kaala Aadmi
1979 Chamelee Memsaab
1979 Junoon Priest
1979 Hum Tere Aashiq Hain British Police Commissioner
1979 Salaam Memsaab John
1980 Bharat Ki Santan
1980 Constans
1981 Kranti British Officer
1981 Kudrat Major Thomas Walters
1982 Meri Kahani
1982 Brij Bhoomi Guest Brajbhasha film
1982 Gandhi Doctor at Aga Khan Palace English film
1982 Vidhaata David
1982 Swami Dada Bob Simpson
1982 Jaanwar
1983 The Last Tiger
1983 Nastik Mr. John
1983 Arpan Tom
1983 Jaani Dost Cobra's Goon
1983 Romance Priest
1983 Gulami Ki Zaanjeerein
1984 Sharara
1984 Bad Aur Badnam President of ringania Uncredited
1985 Ram Teri Ganga Maili Karam Singh (Ganga's Brother)
1985 Bond 303 Tom
1986 Manav Hatya
1986 Shart Alter
1986 Amma British Officer
1986 Sultanat Shah
1986 Karma Rexson
1986 Chambal Ka Badshah
1986 Avinash Tom
1986 Palay Khan
1986 Car Thief John
1986 On Wings of Fire Priest English film
1987 Mr. X
1987 Jalwa Voice of wrestler
1987 Woh Din Aayega Somnath
1988 Etwa
1988 Commando Hatcher
1988 Rukhsat New York Police Capt. Morri
1988 Khoon Bhari Maang Plastic Surgeon Cameo appearance
1988 Janam Janam DFO
1988 Sone Pe Suhaaga Dr. Rex
1988 Ore Thooval Pakshikal
1989 Shagun
1989 Vardi Tom
1989 Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro Johan - (Jani Hippi)
1989 Daata Pat
1989 Tridev Dunhill
1989 Bye Bye Blues Gilbert Wilson
1989 Parinda Musa
1989 Swarn Trisha
1990 Aashiqui Arnie Campbell
1990 Doodh Ka Karz Frank
1990 Zimmedaaar Mercus
1990 Atishbaz
1991 Farishtay Guest Appearance
1991 Deshwasi
1991 Pahari Kanya Doctor Assamese language film
1991 Jab Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya
1992 Suryavanshi Tom
1992 Tahalka Dong's army captain
1992 Angaar Public prosecutor Uncredited
1992 Junoon Harry
1993 Kala Coat Alexander
1993 Gumrah Insp. Phillip
1994 Sardar Lord Mountbatten
1994 Insaniyat British Intelligence
1994 Gajamukta
1994 Ekka Raja Rani Mr. Rai Uncredited
1995 Jai Vikraanta
1995 Oh Darling! Yeh Hai India! Bidder
1995 Milan Father Demello
1996 Kala Pani
1996 Adajya Mark Sahib Uncredited
Assamese language film
1997 Divine Lovers Dr. Taubman
1998 Hanuman Tom's Father
1999 Kabhi Paas Kabhi Fail
2000 Driving Miss Palmen Georg Baselitz
2000 Shaheed Uddham Singh: alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad Brig. Gen. Reginald Edward Harry Dyer
2000 Champion Doctor
2001 Veer Savarkar David Barry
2001 On Wings of Fire
2002 What Happened Then... !!! Allen McGirvan
2002 Dil Vil Pyar Vyar Special Appearance
2002 Bharat Bhagya Vidhata Mohammed Jalaudin Ghaznavi
2003 Love at Times Square Mr. Gery
2003 Dhund: The Fog Uncle Tom
2003 A.O.D. Sanjeev Sarkar
2003 Hawayein Stephen
2003 Yeh Hai Chakkad Bakkad Bumbe Bo
2004 Aetbaar Dr. Freddie
2004 Asambhav Brian
2004 Veer-Zaara Doctor Yusuf
2004 Silence Please... The Dressing Room Cricket coach Ivan Rodrigues English film
2004 Mitter Pyare Nu Haal Mureedan Da Kehna Ghosht Khan
2004 Ghar Grihasti Drug smuggler
2004 Loknayak Abul Kalam Azad
2005 Mission Vande Mataram
2005 Subash Chandra Bose Governor Jackson
2005 Viruddh... Family Comes First Anderson (British Consultate)
2005 The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey Watson
2005 The Hangman Father Mathew
2006 Hot Money
2006 Alag: He Is Different.... He Is Alone.... Dr. Richard Dyer
2006 One Night with the King King Saul (prologue) English film
2007 Foto
2007 I M IN LOVE Church father
2007 Bheja Fry Dr. Shepherd
2007 Kailashey Kelenkari Sol Silverstein Bengali film
2008 Ocean of an Old Man Thomas - Teacher English film
2008 Colours of Passion Rang Rasiya Justice Richards
2009 Avatar Additional Na'vi people British-Australian-American film
2010 Muigwithania Major David English film
2010 Jaanleva Mr. Malhotra
2011 With Love, Delhi! Ajay
2011 Yours Maria Matthew Chacha Short
2011 Cycle Kick Football Coach
2011 Son of Flower Major James Edwards English film
2011 With Love, Delhi! Historian (Kidnapper) English film
2012 Jhansi Ki Rani Laxmibai
2012 Cheekha[29] Adeyapartha Rajan[30]
2012 Life Ki Toh Lag Gayi Chicha
2012 Kevi Rite Jaish Uncle Sam / Derek Thomas Gujarati language film
2012 Son of Flower Major James Edwards
2012 Jaanleva Black Blood
2013 Divana-e-Ishq
2013 The Corner Table George Miller English short film
2014 Daptar - The School Bag[31] Magic Uncle Marathi film
2014 Myth of Kleopatra[32][29] Adeyapartha Rajan Hindi- English Film
2014 M Cream Mr. Bhardawaj English / Hindi film
2014 Bhaangarh
2015 Bachpan Ek Dhokha
2015 Honour Killing Mr. Smith
2015 Promise Dad Raul
2015 Bangistan The Imam
2015 The Path of Zarathustra Mamwaji
2016 Anuragakarikkinvellam Abhi's Boss Malayalam film
2016 Life Flows On Tom English film
2017 Sargoshiyan Alan Alter
2017 2016 The End
2018 Redrum Eric Fernandez Posthumously
2018 The Black Cat English Film; Posthumously
2018 San' 75 Pachattar Marathi film; Posthumously
2018 Hamari Paltan Masterji Posthumously
2018 Nanak Shah Fakir
2019 KITAAB Short film John Last film

TV series

Period Name Role Notes
1986 Idhar Udhar Ronny Gonsalves Episodic appearances
1988 Bharat Ek Khoj Multiple characters
1990–1991 The Sword of Tipu Sultan Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley
1993–1997 Zabaan Sambhalke Charles Spencers
1994 The Great Maratha Robert Clive
1993–1998 Junoon Keshav Kalsi
1995–2001 Aahat Season 1
1997–1998 Betaal Pachisi Harry
1998–1999 Captain Vyom Vishwapramukh
1998–2005 Shaktiman Mahaguru
2000 Adabi Cocktail
2002–2003 Ssshhhh...Koi Hai Swami Antaryami, Mritunjay
2003–2004 Hatim King of Paristan Hindi, Urdu, Tamil languages
2011 Shama Shama's Dadajaan
2011–2013 Yahan Ke Hum Sikandar[33] Samuel
2014 Samvidhaan Abul Kalam Azad
2014 Dard Ka Rishta Dindyal Sharma
2014–2015 Khamosh Sa Afsana Hussain Baba
2017 Rishton Ka Chakravyuh Somdev Guruji
2018 Wilderness Days Anchor
2018 Smoke Moshe Barak


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