Not many people know that Tom Alter, who is passionate about cricket, wanted to be a fast bowler for India. In 1989, while he worked for Sportsweek, a magazine run at that time by Sunil Gavaskar as the editor, he got the chance to interview 15-year-old Sachin Tendulkar. “At that time, Gavaskar had told me that the two best batsmen in Mumbai are Dilip Vengsarkar and Sachin Tendulkar. I had never heard of the latter. But I got permission to interview him. It was the first time he’d be facing the camera and he was so confident!” explains Alter at an event at The Flour Works, Kalyani Nagar, wherein he delightfully shared anecdotes from his career.
After his cricketing dreams, Alter’s passion was in films. He took the Deccan Queen and got to Pune after being one of the two people selected out of thousands to study acting at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune in 1972.
“After I had watched Aradhana several times I decided to get into films. It was the era of Rajesh Khanna. I decided that I wanted to be a part of this magical world of Hindi films. I graduated in 1974 and at the ceremony, the chief guest was none other than Satyajit Ray. While walking out, he looked at me and said, ‘Tom, we will be working together very soon.’ And that came true after about a year.”
Shatranj Ke Khilari, released in 1977, was the first film that eminent filmmaker Satyajit Ray made in Hindi. It is based on a short story about Wajid Ali Shah by Munshi Premchand. The film stars Amjad Khan as Wajid Ali Shah and Richard Attenborough as General Outram who wants to overthrow the king to take over Awadh.
“To work with Satyajit Ray was a tremendous experience. He handled everything on set and his assistant directors didn’t have much to do. The film was set in Lucknow in January but we were shooting in Kolkata in June. The heat was unbearable and at the time air-conditioned make-up rooms weren’t common. However, the only actor to have an air-conditioned make-up room was Uttam Kumar. Ray called up Kumar and requested him to lend us his make-up room as Attenborough and I were sweating profusely.”
Alter has essayed several roles in films and plays but many of these characters have been non-fictitious. The 67-year-old thespian has portrayed Mahatma Gandhi, Lord Mountbatten, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Mirza Ghalib and many more.
“I have had the distinguished honour of portraying these personalities. At the same time, I’m grateful to have got the chance to work with renowned film persons like V Shantaram, Raj Kapoor, Manoj Kumar and Subhash Ghai.”
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