Well known film actor, theatre personality and friend of Urdu Tom Alter passed away on Friday at his residence in Mumbai. Alter 67, was diagnosed with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. Early this month, he was admitted to a Mumbai hospital and according to his family, he returned home on Thursday and died on Friday, surrounded by close family members.
“It is with sadness we announce the death of 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. We ask for their privacy to be respected at this time,” said Tom Alter’s son Jamie in a statement.
Tom Alter who has amazing fan following among college goers had worked as journalist, teacher before venturing out to Bollywood after watching Rajesh Khanna’s and Sharmila Tagore’s starrer Aradhana. He started his Bollywood career with a small role in Dharmendra-starrer Charas in 1976. Later on, he worked in films like Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Gandhi, Kranti, Bose: The Forgotten Hero and Veer Zara among others.
However, his major success came from a TV serial Zabaan Sambhalke (1993-1997), an adaptation of British sitcom, Mind Your Language (1977). Famous actor Pankaj Kapoor was also part of it. He was also part of TV shows like Shaktiman and Captain Vyom, both extremely popular with kids. Alter’s last Bollywood film Sargoshiyan, released earlier this year.
For the young India, however, Alter’s marathon theatre plays were introduction to quality, sincerity and dedication. He played leading role in many plays including Ghalib in Delhi, Maulana Azad and Sons of Babur. He was admired for engaging audience for hours in a solo plays with Urdu as prime language and with no formations, restricted movement on screen and one table-chair.
When he was asked last year by this scribe about his top five favourite plays, he put ‘Maulana Azad’ directed by Sayeed Alam and Habib Tanvir’s ‘Charandas Chor’ along with Syed Asghar Wajahat’s ‘Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya, O Jamyai Nai‘, among top. A great fond of Urdu Shayari and Liberal Arts, he asked a tech gathering of CIOs, CISOs, and CEOs to ‘find solace in poetry when numbers are not matching.’
Alter had gone through a surgery on thumb in September 2016. He told a gathering in Mussoorie that he was not very keen on surgery but had to. “The pain had become unbearable, I was fine earlier,” he had said smilingly. Earlier in an interview his son had said “his condition was a relapse of the same illness which had happened last year and unfortunately, for various reasons, it was not detected at that time and has come back.”
The top politicians, film makers, cricketers and journalists have expressed grief on the demise of veteran actor. In a statement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled his contribution to the film world and theatre. He extended condolences to the family & admirers. President Ram Nath Kovind said, “Sad to hear of demise of veteran actor Tom Alter. He will be remembered by film lovers. Condolences to his family #PresidentKovind.”
PM expressed grief on the demise of Shri Tom Alter and recalled his contribution to the film world and theatre. He extended condolences to the family & admirers of Shri Tom Alter.
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) September 30, 2017
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi said void left behind by him will be difficult to fill. “Tom Alter ji’s contribution to cinema & theatre is immense. Sad to know of his demise. The void left behind by him will be difficult to fill,” he tweeted on Saturday.
Tom Alter ji’s contribution to cinema & theatre is immense. Sad to know of his demise. The void left behind by him will be difficult to fill
— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) September 30, 2017
Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Ex-CM, Ashok Gehlot also recalled Alter and his contribution to India. “RIP #TomAlter…will miss ur acting n human touch. You imbibed Indianness in real sense and enthralled us wd ur fine Urdu-Hindustani rendition,” tweeted Gehlot.
Cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle said, “The world is a good man short this morning. Fine actor, pure sports lover and kind human being. You enriched our world #TomAlter.”
Alter who was mostly offered the Gora or Firangi (Foreigner) role in Bollywood, did not hesitate to explain whenever he was asked about his Indianness. He had the paragraph ready on his lips which could touch the journey of his family from Ohio, United States in November 1916 to Madras (now Chennai) and birth of his father in Sialkot (now in Pakistan) to how his parents moved to India after partition and the places he had live from Allahabad, Jabalpur and Saharanpur to finally settling in Mussoorie in 1954, in no time.
For his outstanding contribution to cinema, theatre and arts, he was honoured with the Padma Shri in 2008, a fourth highest civilian award in India, after the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan. The actor is survived by wife Carol Evans Alter, son Jamie Alter and daughter Afshaan.