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How Rajesh Khanna’s Aradhana changed Tom Alter’s life forever

Often referred to as the “first superstar” of Indian cinema, Khanna meant much more than just an onscreen figure to Tom Alter.

bollywood Updated: Sep 30, 2017 19:21 IST
Neha Pant
Neha Pant
Hindustan Times, Dehradun
Rajesh Khanna,Aradhana,Tom Alter
Tom Alter as Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib during the staging of a play in Dehradun.

On a crisp winter afternoon in early 1970, Tom Alter, then a 20-year-old teacher, cycled over ten kilometers from Jagadhri to Yamunanagar through Haryana farms to watch Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore starrer Aradhana. He ended up pedaling along the same stretch five times that week to see the film again and again. By the end of the week, Alter knew that he wanted to be like Khanna-- an actor.

“Watching Rajesh Khanna in Aaradhna happened to be the turning point of my life, which is how I decided to enter films. I continue to be awed by his unparalleled screen presence and persona,” Alter, who was born and brought up in Mussoorie, had told this correspondent in an interview.

Often referred to as the “first superstar” of Indian cinema, Khanna meant much more than just an onscreen figure to Alter. “He was my hero, always will be.”

Venturing into films eventually, the actor with ‘exotic looks’ went on to surprise viewers with his chaste Urdu and Hindi. Having worked in a large number of films, television serials and theatre shows, the Padma Shri awardee also penned books like The Longest Race and Rerun at Rialto besides writing extensively on his favorite sport, cricket.

‘Who needs an Oscar?’

Unlike many of his colleagues in the Hindi film industry, Alter always felt that international success of his films didn’t matter as much as their local popularity.

“We (Indians) make films for ourselves and if they win the love and appreciation of our people, nothing else matters. And who needs an Oscar if the cinema lovers in our own country shower so much of adulation on our movies?” he had said while interacting with the audience at a book launch at the Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehradun, in 2013.

The “greatest regret” of his life

Despite a widely acclaimed career spanning four decades, the blue-eyed Mussoorie-man considered the “greatest regret” of his life, the enmity between India and Pakistan. “We share a strong passion for sports, films, culture, art and music which hold tremendous scope for bringing the two nations together. Politics can never touch them,” Alter had told HT.

On being asked what kept the thespian going, he’d said, “Never forget your dream because it will always show you the right direction.”

First Published: Sep 30, 2017 19:21 IST