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Getting to know Amol Mhatre Of 'Leela'

Chitra Parayath

Amol Mhatre, the fresh-faced star of Leela is walking away with accolades for his portrayal of Kris, the young Indian American student in the film Leela. The debutant, no stranger to theater, admits to having been quite clueless about Bollywood and it’s stars till he made the film with stalwarts such as Dimple Kapadia, Deepti Naval and Vinod Khanna among others.

Born in the United States, Amol rarely watched Hindi films even though he was in touch with Indian culture and practices. In Leela, Amol turns in an utterly believable performance, he is every bit the character he has to portray, vulnerable, confused and unsure of his own identity.

After earning a bachelor's degree in political science at Brown, Amol decided to move to LA to pursue a career in films. In Leela, his remarkably mature and restrained performance has not gone unnoticed.

His mother, Dr.Jyotsana Mhatre has acted in various Marathi plays and Amol seems to have inherited the talent from her.
Says his proud mother “ We were all tremendously impressed by his acting. It was great to see him on the big screen at the film festival in Canada and see the good response of the audience.”
Amol’s parents admit candidly that his decision to join films was not one they had hoped for. “ He was very good at school, particularly in Science and we assumed he’d pursue a career in that field.” Said his dad Anil Mhatre. They supported Amol’s ambitions though and are happy today that they did.
“He is a practical person, he knows how hard it is to make it big in the industry. He is not materialistic. We respect his sense of independence and detremination, though we miss him! Besides, we loved his work in Leela. ” Added his mom.

Lokvani is proud to introduce this young local talent to our readers.

Lokvani - Could you tell us something about your background and your ties to Boston?
Amol -I was born in Worcester Mass, and I spent my entire childhood in Shrewsbury. My mother is a physician and my father is in computers. I went to college at Brown University where I earned my BA in political Science (I also studied theater there).

Lokvani- Were you part of any Indian organization or participate actively in Indian functions and events in College?
Amol- I wasn’t VERY active, but I did take part in the cultural shows. I did some dances, and skits and one year I hosted it with some friends. That was actually quite a lot of fun; we did a bunch of comedy routines between the acts. I also went to as many political lectures having to do with South Asia as I possibly could.

Lokvani - How did your parents react to your decision to become a full time actor?
Amol - Well the decision to go to LA was tough for my parents. I was pre-med, but I abruptly dropped that, then I decided to come out west to try my luck. It was tough for my parents as I am the only child, but they have been nothing but loving and supportive after the initial shock wore out.

Lokvani - Do you speak any Indian language? Not knowing to speak Hindi must be a disadvantage for someone who aspires to make it into Bollywood?
Amol - I speak Marathi. I understand Hindi and I would love to be able to speak it as well, and I am slowly teaching it to myself. But I don’t think I want to get into mainstream Bollywood films, so I am not worried about it.

Lokvani - The ubiquitous question…how was working with Dimple, Vinod Khanna and Deepti Nawal? They are all established actors with years of experience. Did you feel at all intimidated?
Amol - They were amazing to work with. They treated me with respect and they took the time out to teach me a few things. I was intimidated working with them, but not because they are legends. I have never watched Hindi movies so I was not familiar with their work before Leela. Instead I was just nervous about acting in my first film, and then to be working with all these very professional people was quite an exciting experience. Dimple is beautiful and talented; Deepti is a thorough professional, hard working and very demanding of herself.

Lokvani – Could you tell us some more about Leela? Where was it shot? How long was it in the making? How do you feel about your debut?
Amol - It was shot in April of 2001. It took 24 days in LA and one day in Mumbai. I feel okay about my debut. Its tough to watch the movie as I am always noticing all the the things I did wrong. But hopefully people have and will enjoy the movie as a whole.

Lokvani- How about sharing an interesting anecdote about Leela with us?
Amol –(laughs) This is funny. I was to take my shirt off in one scene, I was 21 when we shot Leela and I was playing an eighteen year old. My chest was too hairy and I was lathered with the Depilatory Nair Hair removing cream on my body. When I went to wash it off, the trailer bathrooms had no water! It was all wiped off me and my skin was burning! I had to have make up on to hide the red patches on my skin!

Lokvani -Have you met with any mainstream (as opposed to cross-over) directors/producers/actors from Bollywood?
Amol - I had met with some when I was in India for Leela. But nothing has come of it as of yet. Leela has been received very well and many producers did call me.

Lokvani -Do you audition for roles in Hollywood productions?
Amol - Yes. I have an agent here in LA who sends me out on auditions for films/TV/ commercials.

Lokvani - Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Amol - Hopefully with a happy and healthy family, and doing something that I love, whether that is acting or not, I don’t know.

Lokvani - I have heard that you work with an NGO, SERRA Project that works with HIV and AIDS-affected children. Are you interested in helping with social causes?
Amol - Yes, I believe in working to bring about change. I work at a non-profit organization that has group homes and subsidized housing for HIV and AIDS patients. It’s something that I can feel good about doing, while making a LITTLE bit of money to get me by.

Lokvani- Finally, what advice would you give to young Indian American men and women who want to make a career in Films?
Amol - Well I'm not sure. If you want to do it, then you really have to give it a try. You may have to relocate and you may have to give up some luxuries, because right now I can tell you that acting is not paying the bills. But I also can say that when someone offers to pay you to act in a movie, it is the most amazing thing in the world to get paid to do what you love.

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