Tom Alter was born in Mussoorie, Uttar Pradesh on 22 June 1950 to American missionary parents, who had migrated to India in 1916. As a young man, Alter studied at the Woodstock School in Mussourie and and the age of 18, had a short stint at Yale University for a year. He returned to India to become a teacher in St. Thomas School in Haryana.
There began his tryst with Hindi cinema and after watching Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana (1969), he decided to pursue acting. He studied acting at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune from 1972 to 1974 under Roshan Taneja and landed his debut film Charas (1976) a few years later.
In a career spanning four decades, Alter worked with the masters of Indian stage and films. He was a part of Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) as captain Weston, opposite Peter O’Toole in One Night With The King (2006), and played Lord Mountbatten in Sardar (1993).
Alter co-founded a theatre group, Motley Productions, with actors Naseeruddin Shah and Benjamin Gilani in 1977 and performed in acclaimed plays like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and essayed the role of Mirza Ghalib in Ghalib in Delhi.