I first discovered Jamie Alter when I stumbled upon a video on his popular YouTube channel. At that time, I was not aware of the fact that he is the late actor Tom Alter’s son. Like most people, I got to know about different aspects of his life through the videos on his YouTube channel. Jamie started his career as a sports journalist. He continues to write about sports but now, he is also pursuing acting as a parallel vocation. In this interview, he talks about his passion for sports and cinema, memories of his father, popularity as a YouTuber, getting used to questions about his ethnic identity, acting career and more.
Back in the day, when you were in school, you used to be a backbencher and write cricket score cards on your notebook. Your passion towards sports led you towards becoming a sports journalist. Given the fact that you are a celebrated actor’s son, one would have expected you to be more interested in cinema.
Actually, I was a movie buff before I got interested in sports. My father was an actor, so I naturally got drawn to films first. Apart from watching films at home, I remember visiting the sets of some of the TV shows my father acted in. Actors, directors and writers would come to visit him all the time. I had an interest in sports but got very passionate about it when I was fourteen or fifteen. I did not have any goals as such and was not sure what I was going to do in life. I had some interest in acting but when I was around 16 or 17 but then, I realised being an actor is a very difficult thing. Somebody like my father put in years of hard work before people started taking him seriously as an actor. Every actor goes through that process and I was not sure if I had that kind of a fire in my belly. My father used to tell me, “I will not tell you what to do. You must follow your heart but once you decide to do something, put all your energies into it.” I finished my school, went to the US to do college. I chose to study political science with a focus on international affairs. While I was in the US, I used to watch sports all the time. That is when my friends told me that I should go back to India and pursue sports journalism. I did not take them very seriously then and started working with an insurance company in the US. After a while, I realised this is not what I wanted to do. I applied for a job in the website ESPNcricinfo.com, which was the only cricket website back then. I got the job and that is how my journey as a sport journalist started.
You also had a passion for sketching.
Yes, I started sketching at the age of four and continued doing it till I was sixteen or seventeen. I am not sure why but I stopped sketching after that. Now, I sketch with my son sometimes. He loves to draw and it feels nice to revisit something I was passionate about at one point of time.
After playing small parts in a couple of films, you played the lead role in ‘Alex Hindustani’. The film did not release and it proved to be a setback for your acting career. Then, you did a show on YouTube called ‘Fake In India’. The two characters you played, Tinku Jiya and Rinku Jiya, became very popular and that earned you some recognition as an actor. The digital show ‘Afsos’ (Amazon Prime Video), which you acted in got a good response from the audience. Your performance was appreciated too. Is being an actor your primary goal now?
Not really. Even now, I am not sure if acting is something I want to do full-time. Yes, the response to ‘Fake In India’ was very encouraging but it was only recently, when I got this opportunity to act in the web show ‘Afsos’, I felt I could pursue acting as a parallel career. I do not have any long-term plans but let’s see where this adventure takes me. I will continue to write about sports but now, I want to pursue acting to challenge myself. At the same time, I have to keep one foot in the sports business as I have been doing that for fifteen years.
You launched your YouTube channel but you started putting out content actively only in the last one year or so.
Yes, I created a YouTube channel in 2013 so that I could share some links, Then, I forgot about it. I worked with Times Of India for five years, during which I worked on their show ‘Fake In India’. In June 2018, I left that job. I was working in another company and thus, could not do ‘Fake In India’ anymore. Every Friday when they would air an episode, they would get comments like ‘where is that guy?”, “we want Tinku back!’. I posted a video on my YouTube channel stating that I would not be able to do the show as I work for another company now. After a year, when I logged in again, I realised there were hundreds of comments on it. I just posted a video of my Dehradun home in between. Around the same time, I decided to take a break from journalism. I realised there were a lot of people who wanted to know more about and my father. That is when I decided to get active on my YouTube channel. The idea was not to do any self-promotion but just to talk about my life and my father’s legacy. During the lockdown, I got a lot of time to create content and that is what I have been doing.
In one of your videos, you spoke about your experiences of being mistaken as a foreigner in your own country. I remember there was a press conference in which your father was asked by an ill-informed journalist, “aap ki Hindi itni achchi kaise hai?”. Does this upset you?
It used to upset me but as I grew older, I realized a lot of people ask such questions only because they are curious. Some people do not realise they could ask these questions in a more appropriate manner. It has been happening for years and will keep happening. But, it does not affect me now. I also understand that it is not very common for somebody who looks like a foreigner to speak in Hindi. That is why people get a little curious and ask these things to me. It is something I have learnt to deal with now.
Your father got to play a wide variety of roles but do you have a fear of getting stereotyped.
My father managed to break that barrier. But, that was rare and I was not sure if I would manage to do that. I know I will not get a wide variety of roles to choose from. I have said a ‘no’ to the kind of roles in which I have to play a ‘firang’ who speaks with a foreign accent. Most people keep my father’s legacy in mind while approaching me for different parts and I am grateful about that. ‘Afsos’ proved to be a very good starting point for me. ‘Alex Hindustani’ was fantastic role but the film was not very good. I guess that is the reason why it never released. I was offered some interesting roles before the lockdown happened and I hope those projects take off now. I think the digital boom has enabled filmmakers to experiment with a wide variety of subjects and I am hopeful that I will get to play a wide variety of characters in the future.
How was the experience of working on ‘Afsos’?
It was a fantastic show and until the time I was shooting, I still could not believe that I was a part of a wild and fascinating project. This was Anubhuti Kashyap’s first series as a director but she led the crew so well. I have been to my father’s sets and in every set I have been to, I have seen some kind of a friction or tension brewing on the set. A lot of people working on ‘Afsos’ were very new. When I started out, I was not sure how the show would pan out to be but Anubhuti channelized everybody’s energies in the right direction. Even the writers were present on the set all the time. It was great to work with actors like Aakash Dahiya, Robin Das and Dhruv Sehgal who have done so much wonderful work. I was the only non-actor around but they made me feel extremely comfortable with their warmth. I was on the sets for only about five days but I had a great time working on the show.
You spent a lot of time in Mussoorie, away from Mumbai, during your childhood. Did you get to interact with people from the industry?
My father was not somebody who went to film parties. He never smoked and drank. That made him a part of a minority group. He had a few industry friends like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Benjamin Gilani, Kanwaljit Singh and Kitu Gidwani. We would meet them at Otter’s Club or the Breach Candy Club. The only parties I remember going to was the success party of ‘Junoon’ or ‘Zabaan Sambhaal Ke’. Sometimes, actors would come home for script rehearsals. It was still a fairly distant world for me. Had I been involved, I would have got it much earlier. But, I am happy that I did not have much of an exposure to the industry and led a normal life.
What is the one quality of your father that has inspired you the most?
He taught me to be honest to one’s craft. He used to say that you must focus on your work without thinking about the results. He was not somebody who gave speeches or any advice. He was very punctual and was respectful of people’s time. These are some of the traits I picked up from him.
Which has been your favourite performance of him?
It is difficult to choose just one role. There is a film called ‘Ocean Of An Old Man’ which not a lot of people have seen. He played a character his age and he did not have much dialogues. The film is about the trauma and the loss people suffered after the Tsunami in the Andaman and Nicobar Island. It was a very difficult role to play and he delivered a subliminal performance which stayed with me for a long time.
You live in Noida (a city in Uttar Pradesh, closer to New Delhi). Do you think that makes things a little difficult for you as you are not in Mumbai where the industry is based in?
Before the lockdown happened, I was shortlisted for a few projects. Only two had the problem that I was in Noida. These days, a lot of shoots happen outside Mumbai. Sometimes, you have to travel across different cities and even countries for a project. If I get the opportunities for which I have to spend a good amount of time in Mumbai, I would not mind settling down there. My mom has a house there. As of now, not many have had an issue with me being based in Noida.
What do you plan to do after the lockdown is over?
I will continue to write about sports. A couple of people had got in touch with me for acting projects. Because of the lockdown, shoots have been on hold. Let’s see how things pan out after the lockdown.