Dated 2019-02-22
13
Nov
2017

His Love for Art and Urdu was Infectious

A great artist and humanist whose life was a vast expanse of beautiful shades.

I had been busy with a workshop with the final year acting students of FTII Pune. Tom Alter was the head of the department and he had requested me to take out time and conduct the workshop. To hear the news of his death in the middle of the workshop was very painful.
Tom was a workaholic and a believer in ‘the show must go on’. What better tribute by the students to not take even a day’s break and continue with the workshop!
My relationship with Tom started when I was a student at FTII and he came to teach us. His classes were different in the sense that they were informal and he encouraged us to perform on the stage, whatever each one of us could – it could be a solo act, shayari (poetry) that he was so passionate about, or an improvisation, or even a song or dance act. He just wanted us to build a habit of performing regularly. After he came to know that I was a drama teacher before I joined the institute, he wanted me to continue the practice and arranged my classes in a municipal school at the weekends. When a group of orphaned children were visiting Pune, he arranged a drama workshop with them too. After I joined FTII again, as a contractual faculty, he was aware of the changes I was initiating in the syllabus and infrastructure. Later he wanted me to be head the department and tried to convince me over a day to agree to it. But when I told him that I wanted to make films in the future and did not see myself working for long at the institute, he supported my decision. He was also of the view that talented people should focus on creative pursuits more and teach when they had time. Though we had our share of differences over teaching methodologies in acting, but that never affected his affection for me. He did not believe in the concept of high art or low art and believed one should keep working – ‘the show must go on’.

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My relationship with Tom started when I was a student at FTII and he came to teach us. His classes were different in the sense that they were informal and he encouraged us to perform on the stage, whatever each one of us could - it could be a solo act, shayari (poetry) that he was so passionate about, or an improvisation, or even a song or dance act. He just wanted us to build a habit of performing regularly.

We were really amazed by the amount of work he was doing across different mediums and despite that had time for schools, institutes and non government organisations. He traveled constantly to keep his word. He was a great lover of Urdu and a motivation for acting students at FTII to learn the language. Tom was a strong exponent of the plural ethos of India and believed dialogue could solve everything. He supported the student strike against the arbitrary appointments to the governing council of FTII which included its Chairman. Such was his passion for cinema, theatre and cricket that when I once asked him how he managed time for his family amid such busy schedule, he went silent. After a while, he said it was tough for his family but they supported his passion. He said they understood he was mad after his pursuits and would never stop. Tom was grateful to them for letting him choose work over family. He has touched so many lives across the cities in India and outside by his work and support that his passing away so early is a big loss. He always got angry when people considered him an angrez or a gora. Tom’s work is a testimony that he was more Indian than the chest thumping majority which keeps questioning people’s nationalities in India.

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