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Time to Alter an old image!

"Maulana Azad", a new play by Sayeed Alam about the lesser known aspects of the architect of modern India who many feel has not got his historical due, premieres in New Delhi this Friday with Tom Alter in the title role. ANJANA RAJAN speaks to the veteran actor on the eve of his solo performance... .

TOM ALTER cuts a handsome figure as he enters the room with a pleasant smile. His affable, polite manner, with the chaste Hindi and Urdu he has been heard speaking in over 150 films, and the Bengali he is also at home with, belies the innumerable villain's roles in which Bollywood has typecast this renowned artiste of American origin. In New Delhi for the premiere of "Maulana Azad", a play written and directed by Sayeed Alam of Pierrot's Troupe, the distinguished actor is rehearsing for the solo performance due to take place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Shri Ram Centre.

"It is his (Alam's) vision of Maulana Azad, and his vision of theatre, and it is my good fortune to be in it," he says graciously, but the director's beaming smile is proof that the compliment is reciprocated in the same if not greater measure.

A 1974 graduate of Pune's famed Film and Television Institute of India, Tom Alter is also a sportsman, playing cricket, basketball, tennis and badminton, and has anchored a highly popular show on DD Sports channel. Though he was involved in theatre during school - Woodstock in Mussourie - and college, films were his passion, and he did not, like some, drift into the medium through financial necessity or luck alone. His was not a case of neglecting a beloved muse for the sake of money. It was through close friends Naseeruddin Shah and Benjamin Gilani - contemporaries at Pune with whom he founded the group Motley - that he got seriously involved with the stage.

On deciding between the two, the veteran artiste offers that it would be like choosing whether you prefer hockey or cricket. "You don't prefer one or the other. You love them both."

But he adds, "Film mein ek adventure hai," and avers that accompanying your friends to the theatre to see one of your films is an incomparable experience - "laajawaab."

The immediacy of stage acting is missing in films, as is the luxury of retakes. There is also a lack of continuity during a shooting, yet it has its own rhythm, that once established, an artiste can flow with, he explains. The camera is very close, and so a good actor need only "think" before the camera. The emotions appear of their own accord.

"Ek acchha actor camere ke samne sirf sochta hai," he asserts, adding that this is not intrinsically different from what a stage actor or indeed any great artiste does - "Apni soch ko zahir kar raha hai."

Today, he says, we are forgetting about the thought and thinking only of the form. Citing film songs whose visuals are sometimes ridiculously inappropriate to the melody or lyrics, he catches himself up, "I sound like an old man, " and then consoles himself, "This too is a passing phase. It will change."

But some phenomena, thankfully, don't change, even when their name is Alter.

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