Spirited Act

Actor Benjamin Geelani remembers friend, theatre person and classmate Tom Alter

Published:October 2, 2017 12:04 am
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He was a very dear friend, both on stage, off stage, behind the camera, and in front of the camera. We shared many things in common, a love for poetry, music, theatre, literature, and films for 45 years. Both of us thought Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand was one the best scripts ever. Then, there was Lawrence of Arabia and Becket, with Peter O’Toole. He was fortunate enough to act with Peter O’Toole and I asked him many, many questions about his time spent with Peter.

Then, Tom, Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah) and I did Waiting for Godot as our first play. We set up Motley together with this play in 1979. A lot of people made fun of us. They said, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing this play?’ It was supposed to be one of the most difficult plays ever written and we did it because we felt we should attempt something like this. Naseer and I played the two tramps and Tom played Lucky, the slave. The play had a very long run. From Motley, he drifted and did his own plays. I have seen most of them. He was my classmate at FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) and I saw him grow in acting from Day One. He had joined a bit late and had missed out the first two lessons that we had. He did what he was supposed to do but he was on the wrong track. We all were in the beginning. Tom grew right from that stage, literally from zero.

We shared a bachelor accommodation in Juhu when we first came out of FTII. I was a stickler for tidiness and he was not. It always surprised me that he could leave stuff lying around because he had also spent his time in a boarding but, I guess, it was a different kind of boarding with an American system and we had a British system.

He loved Indian food. We used to go out and have parathas and keema and lassi and stuff like that in Pune. We didn’t have money when we were in FTII but when we did, we would go to the steakhouse and have ourselves a hearty steak. Then, in Mumbai, we found a joint in Bandra that served great parathas so we would go sometimes.

He did a lot more film work than I; I did more television. It didn’t surprise me that Hindi films typecast him as an angrez but that’s the fault of the filmmakers. We are so stereotyped in our thinking. Tom knew this, he was not a fool. He knew what kind of step he was taking, what difficulties he would have but he didn’t let this get him down and that was the kind of great spirit he had.

 

As told to Dipanita Nath

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