Tom Alter passes away: A close associate recalls actor's unfulfilled wish of playing Jim Corbett

Ajay Suri

Sep 30, 2017 11:46:03 IST

"Huzoor," he said, looking straight at me, the twinkle in his blue eyes suggesting just a hint of mischief. The child in Tom Alter was reclusive, fiercely private and did not open up easily.

"Bambai ne mujhe bahut kuch sikhaya hai (Mumbai has taught me a lot),’’ he chuckled as we sipped a cup of piping hot tea that cold morning near Nainital three years ago. He remained a  tea-guzzler till the end, untouched by tobacco, alcohol and social media. Tom saab never carried a phone, didn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account and the only way to reach him was through his email.

 Tom Alter passes away: A close associate recalls actors unfulfilled wish of playing Jim Corbett

Tom Alter. Image from News 18

The child in Tom Alter cosied up to me a few times. Hopping from Ranthambore to Bandhavgarh to Corbett Park - for our television series Jungle Ki Kahaniyan - he regaled me and Asif Khan with anecdotes which have not yet come up on Google. Jim Corbett and Rajesh Khanna were his heroes. "Koi producer dekho..Mujhe Corbett ka role karna hai (Find a producer who can cast me as Corbett)," he would prod me.

Once in a while, Tom Saab would do book-reading of Jim Corbett’s works in the schools of Mussorie. "It’s very important. You see the kids have to be taught the importance of nature and wildlife,’’ he would remark. And that morning in Mrs Anand’s resort at Kaladhungi, our crew was ready for the shoot but there was no sign of Tom Saab. He appeared four hours later and gave the following excuse, pointing his finger to a hilltop, "Corbett saab isee raste se Nainital jaya karte thay, paidal (Corbett used to walk to Nainital through this route). I tried to emulate his walk. Teen kilometer hee chal paaya (I could walk for only three kilometers). Am too tired now. Is it okay if we roll the camera tomorrow morning?"

Only once did I face his mercurial temper. Scheduled to pick him up from Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, I and Asif were late by one hour. "Ye kya badatmeezi hai. Utter lack of discipline,’’ he shouted at us from distance. "I have been standing here and waiting. People are asking me if my producer has ditched me and if I want any help. Totally unprofessional,’’ he thundered. Half an hour and two aloo paranthas (at a roadside dhaba) later, he mellowed down. "Anything on the Corbett role? Mila koi producer jo lagaye iss project me paisa? (Did you find any producer who would invest in this project),’’ he enquired.

Credited with doing the first television interview of Sachin Tendulkar, Tom Saab was a true-blue sports buff. Hockey was his other interest, besides cricket. How India lost to Pakistan in 1960 Rome Olympics, and how it made a spectacular comeback four years later in Tokyo, who were the key players from both sides, the decisive moments..He knew everything.

Evenings with Tom Alter was another high point of our professional association. Often near a camp-fire, holding on to his cup of tea, he would recite the works of Mirza Ghalib and William Shakespeare, even the unpublished poems of his friends - all in one go!

Not to forget that February morning of 2014, when he rejected my proposal. I had gone to meet him at IIC. ``How can I be a news anchor? You know how much I hate TV news,’’ he said. But BV Rao, the group editor of Sahara channel, was equally persistent. He wanted Tom Alter to anchor the series Chunavi Chai for the then-forthcoming general elections. Tom Saab yielded a few days later, and the show went on to become a big hit of the season.

Tom Saab, you wore many hats, and each of them with aplomb.

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Updated Date: Sep 30, 2017 11:55:12 IST