LOS ANGELES -- At home for his last Christmas break from pre-med classes at Brown University several years ago, Amol Mhatre dropped a bombshell on his parents: He did not want to become a doctor.
But that was only part of it.
Anil and Jyotsna Mhatre's only child told them that, after graduation, he was moving cross-country to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
"I just wanted to go and cry," said Jyotsna Mhatre, herself a physician.
In the end -- after what Amol Mhatre says was "a lot of discussing and a lot of yelling and screaming" -- he won his parents' blessing.
More than two years later, the 24-year-old is one of the male leads in "Leela," a movie about a woman's struggle for independence and her passionate relationship with a confused, young Indian-American student.
Mhatre plays that student opposite Dimple Kapadia, who has twice won the Filmfare Award for best actress.
Filmed mainly in Los Angeles, the movie had a short run at Boston's Bombay Cinema and was distributed throughout India last fall. "Leela" was reasonably successful in India and "established a rapport with urban audiences," according to the Web site Rediff.com.
It was Mhatre's first feature-length film -- and he won the part after his first-ever movie audition.
Thanks to a Brown alumnus, Mhatre had landed a job on the West Coast working as a production assistant for a small company that makes music videos and commercials. A short time later, Mhatre met family friend Anjalika Mathur
Upon learning that Mathur was about to produce "Leela," Mhatre volunteered to work behind the scenes. He mentioned that he is an actor and Mathur looked at him; production company Lemon Tree Films had been searching for someone to play "Kris" for about a year.
"She said, 'You're the right age for the part, a young Indian-American guy,'" Mhatre recalled, in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles.
He saw the audition as little more than good experience. "I wasn't really nervous," he said. "I didn't think I would get it."
Mhatre was in bed early one Saturday morning when a phone call awoke him. It was director Somnath Sen, offering him the role of "Kris."
"It was amazing," he said. "I called my parents immediately. They started screaming and crying."
In no time, Mhatre was acting alongside established professionals like Kapadia, Vinod Khanna, Deepti Naval and Gulshan Grover.
"I learned a lot by watching all of them," he said. "All the people I worked with are legends in the Indian industry. They were all nice to me, and they didn't have to be. Who am I?"
Filming the movie was no cakewalk, Mhatre said. It entailed 14-hour workdays, six days a week, for five weeks.
Mhatre's parents were there when the cast watched the finished version of "Leela" last February at a private screening in Los Angeles. Seeing their son on the big screen was a thrill, his mother said.
For Mhatre, watching himself for 97 minutes was different experience.
"It was horrible," he said. "I couldn't handle it. I saw all the things I did wrong."
The enjoyment of acting supercedes that feeling, he said. "It was the most fun I've ever had," he said. "I couldn't believe I was getting paid for it."
Born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Bombay, Mhatre has always enjoyed the spotlight, his mother said. Mhatre figures he caught the acting bug from his mother, who frequently acts in plays. His father, a computer engineer, often works backstage during his mother's performances.
When Mhatre was about 7, he created a character called "Bob Gandhi," a man who came to the U.S. from India and observed the differences between the countries.
"As (Amol) grew up he kept adding all these things to his character," his mother said. "It was hilarious. He was not shy. Anytime we would have a party, he would always do that."
Growing up in Shrewsbury, Mass., Mhatre attended nearby Oxford Academy and Worcester Academy, where he acted in plays and took a variety of theater courses. That continued at Brown, where he ended up earning a bachelor's degree in political science.
Moving to Los Angeles, leaving behind his family and friends, was "very tough," he says. So, what gave him the courage to do it?
"Maybe stupidity," he said. "I just had no job, I had nothing. I figured I was only going to be 21 once. I didn't have any responsibilities. I just decided: Just go give it a shot."
Since filming "Leela," Mhatre has gone to a handful of auditions, but has yet to land a new project. For now, he is working for a non-profit AIDS organization and hoping that in the future he'll have enough financial security to support a family.
"Acting is a big up-and-down type of business," he said. "The question of stability will come into play."
Amol Mhatre in "Leela."