Poorna Jagannathan is an American actress best known for her portrayal of Safar Khan in HBO's The Night Of, as well as playing the unconventional lead in the Bollywood film Delhi Belly. She also initiated and produced the play Nirbhaya, written and directed by Yael Farber, which dealt with breaking the silence around sexual violence. Her play 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 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. She was most recently a series regular on Gypsy, a Netflix original series, and currently part of the ensemble cast for HBO's new show, Room 104 by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass.
The daughter of an Indian diplomat, Jagannathan was born in Tunis, Tunisia, and grew up in Pakistan, Ireland, India, Brazil and Argentina. She began her college education at the University of Brasilia, Brazil but graduated in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park. On scholarship, she started her master's from The Actor's Studio, one of the world's top drama schools, but left after the first year.
Jagannathan has appeared on several TV shows including House of Cards, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Her film credits include Thanks For Sharing by Stuart Blumburg and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, which went on to become one of the highest grossing films in Bollywood history.
Jagannathan is an established theater actress and is part 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. The project was shot at the end of 2012 but was shelved by HBO. It got revived in May 2013 and was slated to start shooting again with Gandolfini in 2014. After Gandolfini's death, Oscar winner Robert De Niro initially stepped in to take over the role originally played by the beloved Sopranos star in the pilot. Due to schedule conflicts, John Turturro replaced De Niro. Filming resumed August 2014 and ended in March 2015 in New York City. The Night Of released on HBO on July 10th, 2016 to critical acclaim. On Metacritic, it currently has a score of 90%, indicating "universal acclaim" based on 40 reviews. It currently has a score of 95% 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 30th, 2017. In August 2017, Netflix announced it would not renew Gypsy for another season.
Moved by a sensational gang rape and murder in Delhi on December 16, 2012, Jagannathan initiated and produced 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 around 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 NYT 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 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".
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.