Poorna Jagannathan (born December 22, 1972) is an American actress and producer of Indian descent. She is best known for her portrayal of Safar Khan in the HBO miniseries The Night Of as well as playing the lead in the Bollywood cult comedy film Delhi Belly. She also initiated and produced the play Nirbhaya, written and directed by Yaël Farber, which dealt with breaking the silence about sexual violence. Nirbhaya won the 2013 Amnesty International Award and was called by The Telegraph as the "One of the most powerful pieces of theater you'll ever see".
Jagannathan is currently a series regular in the Netflix teen comedy series Never Have I Ever, and is recurring in the Apple TV+ crime drama miniseries Defending Jacob. Jagannathan was previously a series regular in the Netflix psychological thriller series Gypsy, and part of the ensemble cast for HBO's anthology series, Room 104. Jagannathan also starred in the film Share, which was directed by Pippa Bianco and produced by A24. Share was released in 2019 on HBO.
Jagannathan was featured among the top 10 in Femina magazine's "India's 50 most beautiful women" in 2012 and in 2014, she was named among the top 50 most powerful women in India.
The daughter of an Indian diplomat, Jagannathan was born in Tunis, Tunisia, and grew up in Pakistan, Ireland, India, Brazil and Argentina. She speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi and Tamil. She attended the University of Brasília before graduating in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park. On a scholarship, she studied toward a Master of Fine Arts in acting at the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University Although she dropped out after the first year, she continued to study acting under her mentor, Elizabeth Kemp, whom she met there.
Jagannathan has appeared on several high-profile TV shows like Big Little Lies, Better Call Saul and Ramy. She played Blacklister #44 on The Blacklist, and appeared as the guest lead on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for their 18th year's double-season-finale episodes. Her recent film credits include playing one of the leads in A24's film Share. Share premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, winning Best Screenplay and Best Actor, and was immediately acquired by HBO.
Jagannathan is an established theater actress and is a board and company member of The Barrow Group in New York City. In 2012, Deadline.com reported that Jagannathan had joined the cast of HBO's new show The Night Of as a series regular. The ensemble cast was led by James Gandolfini and was written and directed by Steven Zaillian and Richard Price. After Gandolfini's death, John Turturro stepped in to replace him. Filming resumed August 2014 and ended in March 2015 in New York City. The Night Of was released on HBO on July 10, 2016 to critical acclaim. It currently has a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 8.5/10 based on 56 reviews; its consensus reads, "The Night Of is a richly crafted, exquisitely performed mystery that will keep viewers enthralled and leave them devastated."
On September 2016, it was announced that Jagannathan was joining the cast of Gypsy as a series regular. The Netflix produced series was led by Naomi Watts and released on June 30, 2017 but wasn't renewed for another season. In May 2018, Deadline announced that Jagannathan had joined the cast of the HBO series Big Little Lies as a recurring character named Katie Richmond. She is currently a series regular on Mindy Kaling's new show "Never Have I Ever" which released on April 27th on Netflix with a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score from Top Critics.
Jagannathan recently lent her voice to three podcasts in the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series, based on The New York Times Best Seller list books by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. She read the stories of Mary Kom, Margaret Hamilton and Madam C. J. Walker. The series was named among the 50 best podcasts for 2018 by Time and won the 2019 People’s Choice Podcast Award.
Moved by a gang rape and murder in Delhi on December 16, 2012, Jagannathan initiated, produced and acted in a testimonial play called Nirbhaya ("Fearless", a pseudonym given to the victim). The play uses the rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey as a catalyst to break the silence about sexual violence. She collaborated with internationally acclaimed playwright and director, Yael Farber. Nirbhaya opened at the Assembly Hall in August 2013 during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It won the coveted 2013 Amnesty International Award as well as the Scotsman Fringe First and Herald Angel Awards. It got 5 star reviews from The Independent, The Telegraph and The Herald. It got 4 star reviews from The Times, The Scotsman, the London Evening Standard and Time Out. The Sunday Herald called Nirbhaya "One of the most powerful and urgent pieces of human rights theatre ever made". In March 2014, Nirbhaya was the centerpiece performance for Southbank's "Women of the World" festival where it played to sold out houses in the UK. After a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund an India tour, Nirbhaya opened to critical acclaim in India on March 17, 2014, playing to sold out houses in Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore. In August 2014, The Guardian audiences voted Nirbhaya among the top 10 "best fringe moments" in the Edinburgh Festival's history. Nirbhaya opened to rave reviews at The Culture Project in New York City in May 2015, and rose to become The New York Times Critics' Pick. The play toured for three years in multiple cities in Ireland, Canada, the UK, India and the U.S. Many reviewers stated that it was one of the most political and deeply moving pieces of theater ever made.
Jagannathan's performance as Nalini Vishwakumar in the Netflix comedy "Never Have I Ever," was lauded by critics. Sonia Saraiya from Vanity Fair said, "I’ve seen a lot of actors attempt to flesh out the stereotypically demanding Indian mom, but I’ve never seen anyone do it as well as Jagannathan does—not even Shaheen Khan in Bend It Like Beckham, and that is a really high bar. It’s the little things: the nearly untraceable Indian accent, the mumbled exclamations in a different language, the slight gestures and paranoiac side-eyes of the Indian aunty, the seemingly effortless bridging of the paradox between ancient tradition and modern necessity. It would not have been difficult to cast Nalini as a monster, and often, Devi’s inclined to think of her mother as her biggest obstacle. But Ramakrishnan and Jagannathan play off of each other beautifully, in a locked battle of wills that seems frustrating for both of them but indicates just how much attitude and verve they have in common. Along with Moorjani, Never Have I Ever creates a triangle of Indian-American womanhood, the better to inhabit it—and to dissect its contradictions." Jinal Bhatt from Mashable.com wrote, "Poorna Jagannathan has been a revelation in this series, and I’d say she puts forth one of the best portrayals of Indian-American mothers we’ve seen. Some of the #JustMomThings she says penetrate through the screen and hit you while you watch! But her dynamic with Devi is beautiful in the subtext, a proof that parents and children don’t mean what they say, and don’t show what they really feel." And John Anderson from the WSJ said, "To call anyone a supporting player doesn’t quite do it—everyone is supporting everyone, none more affectingly than Poorna Jagannathan as Devi’s mom, Nalini, who is a hilarious mix of Indian tradition, widowhood, creeping Americanization and the flat delivery of a sentencing judge. (‘If you ever call me the B word again, you will never ride the moped and you will never drive at all because you will be dead.’)”
Her performance in The Night Of also received positive reviews; Vinnie Mancuso of Observer wrote, "Poorna Jagannathan, who has been putting in one of the year's most heartbreaking performances, continues to shine....." Vikram Murthi from Vulture wrote "Poorna Jagannathan's subtle performance really shines .... Her facial reactions convey such a profound array of emotions." And Variety's Sonia Saraiya wrote, "The Night Of" is its most brilliant when it leans on the weakest members of the ensemble with the least understanding of the trial and the most to lose from it. Naz's parents, played by Poorna Jagannathan and Payman Maadi, are quietly devastating, torn between their Jackson Heights (Queens) community and a city hurling hate speech at them."
Jagannathan's comic performance in Room 104 was widely praised by critics: Kathryn VanArendonk of Vulture wrote, "But Jagannathan's Divya is even better. Even without a physical presence, Divya is still immediately recognizable as a character. At times she's breezily unconcerned, at other moments, she's sharply chastising her son for his brusqueness. Her delivery is the bedrock of the episode's sense of humor."
Jagannathan also won critical acclaim for her role as a spunky, irreverent journalist in the film Delhi Belly. The Village Voice said "For all this censor-board razzing, the most enjoyably subversive element is Poorna Jagannathan as the self-sufficient bachelorette who waylays Tashi on his way to the altar. Rangy, corkscrew-haired, with a wary demeanor that can't long be upset by anything, she's a happy departure from the usual run of Xeroxed, pedestaled beauties." Mumbai Mirror said, "Poorna Jagannathan, an offbeat choice, is remarkably subtle and does a brilliant job." The Daily News and Analysis said that Jagannathan shines in the film, and that "her bohemian sex appeal" is "a refreshing change from the prim and proper 'heroine' we are used to watching." The editor of Outlook Lounge said that Jagannathan's performance was a "masterclass in effortless acting". In 2019, Delhi Belly was named one of the top 25 Bollywood movies of the decade by FilmCompanion.
For her performance in Delhi Belly, Jagannathan won the Stardust award for Best Supporting Actress and the L'Oreal Femina Award for Breakthrough Performance in 2012.
- Jagannathan has been featured on the cover of Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, Femina, Jade and Exotica and covered in numerous publications like Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Grazia
- In 2014, Verve magazine named her among the top 50 most powerful women in India
- She was featured in Vogue's October 2012 anniversary issue as one of 8 women who are changing the face of beauty in India
- Jagannathan was featured among the top 10 in Femina magazine's "India's 50 most beautiful women" in 2012
- Vogue included her in their list of most stylish women in 2012, 2014 and 2015
- Grazia awarded Jagannathan the "Best Dressed Award" for 2014
- She was ranked Most Fashionable Indian Woman by Cosmopolitan in their October 2013 and 2012 issues
- She was included in Verve's "2012's Best dressed Women" issue
- Italian Marie Claire named Jagannathan as one of the 12 women from the East impacting Western cinema in 2012
- She was included in Elle magazine's hot 100 list for 2011
- She was voted among the Top 50 Coolest Indians From Around The World for 2013 and 2011 by Desiclub
She is also a brand ambassador for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
|Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award 2013||Winner|
|Scotsman Fringe First Award 2013||Winner|
|Herald Angel Award 2013||Winner|
|L'Oreal Femina Women Awards 2012||Winner of Breakthrough Performance|
|10th Annual Kamala Pasand Max Stardust Awards||Winner of Breakthrough Supporting Performance (Female)|
|18th Annual Colors Screen Awards||Nominated for Best Debut Actor (Female)|
|Zee Cine Awards 2012||Nominated for Best Debut Actor (Female)|
|18th Annual Colors Screen Awards||Nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Female)|