With his blond hair and blue eyes, Tom Alter found few roles on the big and small screens, frequently that of a villain. Here are some roles in which he stood out despite the stereotyping that dogged his career.
Aashiqui: As the repressive Arnie Campbell, Alter played the chief obstacle in Mahesh Bhatt’s 1990 love story, Aashiqui. The immensely hummable music and the fresh pairing of Rahul Roy and Anu Aggarwal may have made the movie the blockbuster of the year, but the story of two star-crossed lovers was convincing to a huge extent because of the menace that Alter conveyed.
Parinda: While to most Bollywood filmmakers, Alter was the obvious choice to play a gora, Vidhu Vinod Chopra cast the actor as an underworld don, Musa, in his 1989 crime drama, Parinda. While being pivotal to the plot of the film, it wasn’t the meatiest of roles, but Alter made it memorable, searing the memory of Musa’s ultimate grim betrayal in the minds of a generation
Shatranj ke Khiladi: In this Satyajit Ray film, based on a short story by Munshi Premchand, Alter played Captain Weston, aide de camp to General James Outram, the newly-arrived British resident in Awadh. In a memorable scene, when Outram seeks information from his subordinate about Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and the general state of affairs in Awadh, Alter successfully captures the deep sympathy his character has for both the Nawab and the culture of the land, even reciting some of Wajid Ali Shah’s poetry. Alter’s portrayal was key to establishing how the racial and cultural lines dividing Indian nobility and the British were blurred before the rebellion of 1857.
Junoon: Running for five years straight and with 500 episodes, Junoon was a huge hit for Doordarshan. The story revolved around two business rivals, played by Mangal Dhillon and Shashi Puri, and their families, with Alter digging his teeth into the rather meaty role of the mob boss Keshav Kalsi, the villain with the slick wardrobe and overdone hair.
Zabaan Sambhalke: The cast of the Doordarshan show, based on the British sitcom Mind Your Language, featured some of the most popular actors working in television at the time. Besides Pankaj Kapur, who played the beleagured Hindi teacher Mohan Bharti, there were Shubha and Viju Khote, Vivek Vaswani and Anant Mahadevan. Alter held his own as the ascot-wearing Mr Charles Spencer, a British writer in India.
Shaktimaan: Cable TV may have come to India in the ’90s along with sophisticated programming from the US and Britain, but for many children growing up in the decade, Shaktimaan was the last word in superhero television shows. Alter played the snowy-haired and saffron-clad Mahaguru, a mentor figure to Mukesh Khanna’s titular character, helping him realise his powers.
Samvidhaan: The Making of the Constitution of India — Shyam Benegal’s mini-series made for Rajya Sabha TV boasted an impressive cast, including Sachin Khedekar as BR Ambedkar, Neeraj Kabi as Gandhi, Dalip Tahil as Nehru and Utkarsh Mazumdar as Sardar Patel. Alter played Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, breathing quiet dignity and stern determination into the role.