It was a night show of romantic super-hit film Aaradhana in Haryana’s Jagadhri town in 1970 that moved Thomas Beach Alter, also known as Tom Alter, to join the film industry.
Then, Tom was a teacher at St. Thomas School in Jagadhri and he, along with his friend Saleem Bakhtawar, had gone to watch the movie at Jamuna Talkies in the town.
“After watching the movie, Tom told me he would also become a star like Rajesh Khanna. It seemed he had made up his mind to become a film actor,” recalls Saleem, who is currently a music teacher at the same school.
According to Saleem, Tom subsequently decided to join an institute Pune to learn film acting where “he stood first”.
“Then Ramanand Sagar gave him a chance and he worked in his movie Charas. He came to Jagadhri and we together watched the movie at Madhu Talkies here. Later, he worked in about 300 movies and serials, including the hit films like Kranti and Aashiqui,” Saleem said.
At 18, Tom had enrolled at Yale University, where he studied for a year-and-a-half before deciding to come back to India to join the Jagadhri school in 1969. Chandana Lall, principal of the school run by a Christian missionary, said Tom worked there for nearly six months and was loved by his students.
“Tom was teaching class 4th, apart from working as a sports teacher,” says Saleem. “The school management had provided a room to Tom in school premises. My father was an employee of the local church and a house was allotted to my family in the same school campus. That time, I was just 13 and was student of another school while Tom’s age was 19. We used to play cricket, basketball and volleyball together,” Saleem said.
According to Saleem, Tom had later came to Jagadhri to attend marriage of Saleem’s sister Victoria.
One of Tom’s students, Deepti Jain, a gynecologist, is now running her nursing home in Rohtak. “That time, I was just nine. We were just four students, Deepati, Bindu, Gurinder and Harvinder, in Tom’s class. Tom had joined the school as a teacher just after passing 10+2,” says Deepti, now 55. “Last year, Tom came to St Thomas School to attend its golden jubilee celebrations. In a lighter mood, I told Tom Sir I was in 5th class that time. But Tom immediately corrected me saying I was a student of 4th class. He also said I was his best student,” says Deepati.
Paying tributes to the late actor, Saleem says, “I have lost my elder brother.”
The 67-year-old actor had been diagnosed with skin cancer at an advanced stage and was being treated at a Mumbai hospital.