Poorna Jagannathan

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Poorna Jagannathan
Jagannathan in 2020
Born (1972-12-22) December 22, 1972 (age 48)
EducationUniversity of Brasília
University of Maryland, College Park (BA)
Pace University
Years active2001–present
Spouse(s)Azad Oommen (m. 2003)

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 for her role as Nalini Vishwakumar in the Netflix teen comedy series Never Have I Ever by Mindy Kaling.

She also initiated, produced and acted in the play Nirbhaya,[1] written and directed by Yaël Farber, which dealt with breaking the silences around sexual violence, including her own.[2] Nirbhaya won the prestigious 2013 Amnesty International Award and was called by The Telegraph as the "One of the most powerful pieces of theater you'll ever see".[3] The play is considered one of the most impactful moments in India's history of women's empowerment.[4]

Jagannathan was previously a series regular in the Netflix psychological thriller series Gypsy, a recurring in the Apple TV+ crime drama miniseries Defending Jacob,[5] and part of the ensemble cast for HBO's anthology series, Room 104.[6] She also starred in the cult Bollywood comedy, Delhi Belly as well as the movie Share, which was directed by Pippa Bianco, produced by A24, and released on HBO in 2019.[7]

Jagannathan was featured among the top 10 in Femina magazine's "India's 50 most beautiful women" in 2012 as well as being named by Vogue India as one of 8 Indian women changing the face of beauty. In 2014, Jagannathan was named among the top 50 most powerful women in India.[8] And in 2021, she was named among the top 100 Most Impactful Asians by Gold House.[9] She is an occasional contributor to CNN Opinions.[10][11][12] [13]

Early life[edit]

Poorna Jagannathan modeling a Prabal Gurung dress

The daughter of an Indian diplomat, Jagannathan was born in Tunis, Tunisia, and grew up in Pakistan, Ireland, India, Brazil and Argentina. She speaks Tamil, English, Spanish, Portuguese and Hindi.[14] 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.[15] Although she dropped out after the first year, she continued to study acting under her mentor, Elizabeth Kemp, whom she met there.


Jagannathan at the Delhi Belly Screening.

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.[16] Her recent film credits include playing one of the leads in A24's film Share.[17] Share premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, winning Best Screenplay and Best Actor, and was immediately acquired by HBO.[18]

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.[19] 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."[20]

In September 2016, it was announced that Jagannathan joined the cast of Gypsy as a series regular.[21] The Netflix produced series was led by Naomi Watts 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.[22] She is currently a series regular on Mindy Kaling's new show Never Have I Ever which released on April 27 on Netflix with a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score from Top Critics.[23]

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[24] and won the 2019 People's Choice Podcast Award.[25]

Before her career as an actor, Jagannathan spent 15 years working in advertising at agencies like TBWA\Worldwide, Ogilvy, and Deutsch Inc. before starting her own consultancy, Cowgirls & Indians.


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).[26] 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.[27][28] Nirbhaya opened at the Assembly Hall in August 2013 during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.[29] 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".[30][31][32][33][34] 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.[35][36] In August 2014, The Guardian audiences voted Nirbhaya among the top 10 "best fringe moments" in the Edinburgh Festival's history.[37] 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.[38] 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.[39] "Nirbhaya" is considered one of the most impactful moments in India's history of the women's empowerment movement.[4]


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."[40] 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."[41] 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.’)”[42]

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....."[43] Vikram Murthi from Vulture wrote "Poorna Jagannathan's subtle performance really shines .... Her facial reactions convey such a profound array of emotions."[44] 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."[45]

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."[46]

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."[47] Mumbai Mirror said, "Poorna Jagannathan, an offbeat choice, is remarkably subtle and does a brilliant job."[48] 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."[49] 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.[50]

For her performance in Delhi Belly, Jagannathan won the Stardust award for Best Supporting Actress[51] and the L'Oreal Femina Award for Breakthrough Performance in 2012.[52]

  • She was named among the top 100 Most Impactful Asians in 2021 by Goldhouse[53]
  • 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[8]
  • 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[54]
  • 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[55][56]

She is also a brand ambassador for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).



Year Title Role Notes
2004 She Hate Me Song's Girlfriend
2005 The Weather Man NY Pedestrian
2007 Awake Dr. Neyer's Nurse
2011 Peace, Love & Misunderstanding Mira
Delhi Belly Menaka Vashisht
2012 Thanks for Sharing Dr. Kazhani
2013 Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani Riana
2015 Growing Up Smith Nalini Bhatnagar
2016 Carrie Pilby Fliss
2017 The Circle Dr. Villalobos
2018 Mile 22 Dorothy Brady
An Actor Prepares Dr. Fisher
2019 Share Kerri
2020 Alia's Birth Jaime


Year Title Role Notes
2004 Law & Order Rehana Khemlani 1 episode
2005 Starved PJ 1 episode
2006 Love Monkey Director 1 episode
2006 Rescue Me Dr. Klein 1 episode
2006 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Dr. Sikh 1 episode
2008 The Game Dr. Diamond 1 episode
2009 Numb3rs Tech #1 1 episode
2010-2011 Royal Pains Saya 2 episodes
2015 House of Cards Dr. Lanjawni 2 episodes
2016 NCIS: Los Angeles Dr. Nitya Agarwal 1 episode
2016 Rizzoli & Isles Mrs. Jalbani 1 episode
2016 The Night Of Safar Khan Miniseries, 8 episodes
2017 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Maya Samra 2 episodes
2017 Gypsy Larin Inamdar Main role, 8 episodes
2017 Room 104 Divya 1 episode
2017 The Blacklist Nirah Ahmad 1 episode
2018 Taken Judith Chapman 1 episode
2018 Better Call Saul Dr. Maureen Bruckner 2 episodes
2018 Sorry for Your Loss Therapist 1 episode
2019 The Act Dr. Lakshmi Chandra 1 episode
2019 Ramy Salma 2 episodes
2019 Big Little Lies Katie Richmond 3 episodes
2020 Messiah Sanjana Mirza 3 episodes
2020 Defending Jacob Elizabeth Vogel 4 episodes
2020–present Never Have I Ever Dr. Nalini Vishwakumar Main, 10 episodes
2020 The Wilds Rana Jadmani 1 episodes


Award Category
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)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzJ1ehZTXsE
  2. ^ https://www.cnn.com/videos/entertainment/2015/05/05/intv-jagannathan-nirbhaya-india-rape-dialogue.cnn
  3. ^ Laura Barnett (5 August 2013). "Edinburgh Festival 2013: Nirbhaya, review". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  4. ^ a b https://www.vogue.in/content/the-most-impactful-moments-in-womens-empowerment-history
  5. ^ "Poorna Jagannathan on working with the stellar female cast and crew of Big Little Lies". Vogue India.
  6. ^ VanArendonk, Kathryn. "Episode Five of HBO's Room 104 Is a Must-Watch".
  7. ^ Lang, Brent (January 26, 2019). "Sundance: HBO Films Acquires 'Share' From A24".
  8. ^ a b "Power Catalyst: Poorna Jagannathan". Verve Magazine. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  9. ^ https://goldhouse.org/a100/?y=2021
  10. ^ https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/09/opinions/post-election-roundup-what-now-america-opinion/index.html
  11. ^ https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/21/opinions/how-to-date-in-2018-opinion-roundup/index.html
  12. ^ https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/11/opinions/gender-and-power-opinion-roundup/index.html
  13. ^ https://www.cnn.com/videos/entertainment/2015/05/05/intv-jagannathan-nirbhaya-india-rape-dialogue.cnn
  14. ^ Banerjee, Debesh (9 July 2011). "The Belly Button". The Indian Express. Retrieved 2011-08-17.
  15. ^ Appelo, Tim (2012-05-04). "The Hollywood Reporter's List of the 25 Top Drama Schools". The Hollywood Reporter.
  16. ^ "Poorna Jagannathan". IMDb. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  17. ^ McNary, Dave (1 November 2017). "Film News Roundup: Poorna Jagannathan Starring in Pippa Bianco Drama (EXCLUSIVE)".
  18. ^ "HBO News - HBO Acquires Pippa Bianco's 'Share'". HBO.
  19. ^ Nellie Andreeva. "HBO Orders 'Criminal Justice' Drama Pilot Starring James Gandolfini, From Steven Zaillian & Richard Price". Deadline. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  20. ^ "The Night Of: Miniseries - Rotten Tomatoes".
  21. ^ Pedersen, Erik (23 September 2016). "Brenda Vaccaro & 'The Night Of's Poorna Jagannathan Join Netflix Drama 'Gyspy' – Update".
  22. ^ Petski, Denise (May 7, 2018). "'Big Little Lies': Poorna Jagannathan Set To Recur In Season 2 Of HBO Series".
  23. ^ "Never Have I Ever: Season 1" – via www.rottentomatoes.com.
  24. ^ "The 50 Best Podcasts to Listen to Right Now". Time.
  25. ^ "Podcast Awards - The People's Choice". www.podcastawards.com.
  26. ^ "Play on Nirbhaya in Edinburgh now". The Times Of India.
  27. ^ Andrew Dickson. "Nirbhaya: the Edinburgh play telling the truth about abuse". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  28. ^ Trueman, Matt (2013-05-14). "Nirbhaya: play exploring Delhi gang rape heads to Edinburgh festival 2013". The Guardian. London.
  29. ^ Nathan, John (2013-05-14). "Nirbhaya: Play about the Delhi rape that shocked the world set for Edinburgh". The Independent. London.
  30. ^ "Nirbhaya". www.assembly festival.com. Archived from the original on August 22, 2013. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
  31. ^ "Fringe reviews: Nirbhaya / Somnambules & The 7 Deadly Sins / The Events". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  32. ^ Barnett, Laura (2013-08-05). "Edinburgh Festival 2013: Nirbhaya, review". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  33. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20130821014739/http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=10535. Archived from the original on August 21, 2013. Retrieved August 24, 2013. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  34. ^ "Yaël Farber's Play "Nirbhaya" Wins Amnesty Award". Artinfo. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  35. ^ "Breaking the silence". Mumbai Mirror. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  36. ^ "Mumbai gives Nirbhaya play a standing ovation". The Times Of India.
  37. ^ Marta Bausells. "Edinburgh festival: your favourite shows and memorable moments". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  38. ^ Brantley, Ben (27 April 2015). "Review: 'Nirbhaya,' a Lamentation and a Rallying Cry for Indian Women" – via www.nytimes.com.
  39. ^ "Nirbhaya". www.show-score.com.
  40. ^ Saraiya, Sonia. "Charming and Bright, Never Have I Ever Is Mindy Kaling's Best Show Yet". Vanity Fair.
  41. ^ "Never Have I Ever Review: Mindy Kaling's Netflix Teen Comedy Goes Down Like A Smooth Shot". Mashable India. April 24, 2020.
  42. ^ Anderson, John (April 23, 2020). "'Never Have I Ever' Review: Everyone's a Sidekick" – via www.wsj.com.
  43. ^ "Was HBO's 'The Night Of' a Masterpiece? There Is Reasonable Doubt". Observer. 2016-08-29. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
  44. ^ "The Night Of Recap: Ugly Cats in Small Cages". Vulture. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
  45. ^ Saraiya, Sonia (July 8, 2016). "TV Review: 'The Night Of'".
  46. ^ VanArendonk, Kathryn. "Episode Five of HBO's Room 104 Is a Must-Watch". Vulture. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
  47. ^ Pinkerton, Nick (29 June 2011). "Bollywood Gets Raunchy in Delhi Belly". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2011-07-13.
  48. ^ Anshuman, Karan (2 July 2011). "Effing great". Mumbai Mirror. Retrieved 2011-07-13.
  49. ^ Guha, Aniruddha (1 July 2011). "Review: Delhi Belly will have you laughing your a$ off". Daily News and Analysis. Retrieved 2011-07-13.
  50. ^ "25 Greatest Hindi Films Of The Decade | Film Companion". www.filmcompanion.in.
  51. ^ "Online Event promotion". meraevents.com. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  52. ^ "Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka Latest Breaking News and Headlines". www.dailymirror.lk.
  53. ^ https://goldhouse.org/a100-hall-of-fame/
  54. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20130407152656/http://www.marieclaire.it/People/Da-Hyo-Jin-Kim-a-Poorna-Jagannathan-12-star-orientali-al-femminile. Archived from the original on April 7, 2013. Retrieved May 27, 2013. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  55. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20121003231623/http://www.desiclub.com/community/culture/culture_article.cfm?id=872. Archived from the original on October 3, 2012. Retrieved May 27, 2013. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  56. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20131225071143/http://www.desiclub.com/community/culture/culture_article.cfm?id=1210. Archived from the original on December 25, 2013. Retrieved December 24, 2013. Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]