Veteran actor Tom Alter says he wants to play both Nehru and Jinnah
Age hasn’t yet caught up with actor Tom Alter. Here in the city to perform at Shivani Tibrewala’s play Whatever You Say, the actor’s trademark deep voice rings clear and true, his energy is unflagging and his bright blue eyes haven’t lost their twinkle and zest for life.
Acting, theatre, cricket, writing, poetry Tom certainly has a lot on his plate but he appears a trifle dismissive about it, “People have always done a lot of things at the same time. It is only now that we make such a big deal about it.”
Born in Mussoorie, Tom spent his early youth teaching at St Thomas School, Jagadhri before he joined films, “I liked it there. I liked teaching,” he says. But that was before he saw Rajesh Khanna in Aradhana, “He was just becoming the big super star and I wanted to be him. So I packed my bag and joined the Film Institute in Pune.”
He recalls his first meeting with veteran director Satyajit Ray, “I first met him at my college convocation,” he remembers. “He made a fantastic speech. He then walked past me and said we will work together. Ray was a genius,” he adds.
Although he was born post Partition, it is a topic that is very close to Tom’s heart, “My family was deeply affected by Partition. It was split right down the middle,” he says adding, “It was a dramatic period. There was the great joy of independence and the great sorrow of Partition. Looking back is not just dramatic but also healing if we look at it the right way. When we talk about Partition, we need to learn from our mistakes. Only then can we moved forward and solve our problems. We need to do it soon because there are not too many people around who saw Partition and soon there won’t be anyone left.”
With 175 films, 20 theatre productions and 50 television series to his credit, Tom has essayed myriad roles including Lord Mountbatten, Maulana Azad, Sahir Ludhianvi and poet Mirza Ghalib. He admits that there are two other characters he wants to play desperately, “Nehru and Jinnah. They are two characters that I’ve not done and would love to do. I would love to try being them.”
Having being part of it for over three decades, Tom’s take on the evolution of the Hindi movie industry (he doesn’t like being referred to it as Bollywood) is a trifle mixed,
“Both good and bad things have happened to it. The good thing is we have become more adventurous—we are making different sorts of films, dealing with subjects we would never have thought of dealing with. The bad thing is that we have lost the personal touch. We have become far too corporate and organized.”
His opinion on the current state on cricket however is more strident, “It has become too commercial. I think that there are some things that didn’t need commercialization and cricket was one of them.
“It has made a lot of money, but it really hasn’t made too many people happy.”