By Utpal Borpujari
There is a little bit of Karnataka in James Cameron’s epical Avatar, and it goes by the name of Dileep Rao.
Yes, as the film is sweeping across the global Box Office, the young Rao, son of an engineer father and physicist mother who hail originally from Karnataka, is basking in the glory of having worked in this visual treat.
Los Angeles-born Rao plays Dr Max Patel, a conscientious scientist who lends a helping hand towards the film’s protagonist Jack Sully in the fight to protect the world of Na’vi community in planet Pandora and its resources from greedy humans.
This is Rao’s big screen debut, but if anyone thought that debuting through a James Cameron film was big enough, wait till one hears about the directors of his next two films – Sam Raimi of Spider-Man fame and Christopher Nolan of The Dark Knight, Batman Begins and Memento fame.
In fact, he is the only actor of Indian origin in who in his first three movies has got the chance to act with three of the biggest directors of Hollywood. While in Raimi’s horror flick Drag Me to Hell Rao plays a leading role, in Nolan’s Inception he stars alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Ken Watanabe.
Quite naturally, the affable Rao is floating on cloud nine. As he told Deccan Herald from the US, “It’s (Avatar) a transporting, mesmerising film of epic proportions. You must see it to understand how incredible its visual power is and how surprisingly emotional the picture becomes.”
Rao, a fan of Satyajit Ray and Raj Kapoor films, got the role through an audition, and chose the surname “Patel” – making the character Indian – after Cameron asked him to pick a surname for it himself. “Cameron allowed me to choose the surname and I chose a common one that wouldn’t be hard to pronounce for Western audiences. We discussed the role in depth and worked it out on set every day, but he gave me the room to bring my ideas into it,” says Rao.
Describing how he and the rest of the cast worked in the film that has used latest technologies, he says, “We just approached it with the clarity the team created. It’s a whole new world in terms of what can be done and how it can fit together. You have to be on your toes but the process is surprisingly clear.”
Sharing screen space with legends like Sigourney Weaver has been quite an experience for the actor. As he puts it, She is a gracious and brilliant actress of great experience. It’s a real lesson in how to do the job and be an artist.”
Rao, whose Drag Me To Hell was screened at the last Cannes Film Festival, is now waiting for the release of Nolan’s film mid next year. “All three are visionary directors, each with a comprehensive grasp of the medium and the process. It’s very similar in terms of experience in some ways – to have a great leader at the helm makes everyone’s job easier,” says Rao, who is interested in watching realistic Indian films like the ones made by Deepa Mehta.