"We Got To Play Out Our Fantasies In Delhi Belly" - Poorna Jagannathan On Bollywood And The Night Of

Shreemi Verma , 30 Aug 2016
Poorna Jagannathan
Poorna Jagannathan

HBO’s The Night Of is one of the best shows on television right now. We got in touch with the amazing Poorna Jagannathan who broke into Bollywood with Delhi Belly and who is one of the leads of the series. Here are some very interesting things she said about The Night Of, Bollywood and Ranbir Kapoor! Read on –

Hi Poorna! Have been a fan since Delhi Belly. How did ‘The Night Of’ come into the picture?

I was shooting in Paris for Ayan Mukerji’s YJHD (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani) when one of my favorite casting directors, Avy Kaufman, reached out to me with an audition. I was blown away by the material: it was haunting and I felt like I knew this character already. Even in the few pages I was given, I could tell there was something very special here. I felt the same way about Delhi Belly actually – good writing has a way of coming off the page and as an actor, it’s the best thing you could ask for.

The show is being pitched as the one to watch now that Game Of Thrones is over, that’s quite a big deal! You think it’ll quench the blood lust GOT fans have developed a taste for (I’m one of them)?

Well, it may be time to let the beast eat a more civilized meal.
The Night Of is old school – you have to wait every week to watch it instead of getting to devour it all at once. The show is actually an adaptation of a BBC one called Criminal Justice. That story also had a taxi-driving family but they were Caucasian and when Steve Zaillian and Richard Price adapted it for American audiences, they set it in NYC. And for the story to be authentic, they made the family South Asian. So right away, the story feels different, tense and more charged than the original.

The Night Of is also a very New York story, and I don’t think I’ve seen a more honest tribute to the city since Taxi Driver. Nowadays, almost every NY scene is shot in Toronto or Vancouver but NY still has an attitude and grit to it that can’t be replicated by a set. We shot in an actual prison, we were in a real courtroom downtown, the family’s home was actually in Jackson Heights. All these details add up to give you the feeling that this story is real and it could happen to you – and the dread that comes from that knowledge is what makes you hyper ventilate while watching the show.

The Night Of is on-air at a fitting time, especially with cases like Brock Turner in the news, what are your thoughts on that?

It couldn’t be birthed at a more fitting time. The rise of Islamaphobia, an examination of the criminal justice system, and with Adnan Sayed and NPR’s Serial being on everyone’s mind. P.S Malini and I were obsessed with Serial all last year. Many people think The Night Of is the TV version of Serial but it was written years before Serial.
But I also think there is a real conversation on diversity in film and television that’s happening in America. There’s such a gross under-representation and stereotyping of minorities. As a South Asian woman, I’ve played an abnormally large number of doctor roles – (delivering babies and performing brain surgeries are my specialties). So I think shows like The Night Of make a really good case for diversity in film and TV. The characters are richly crafted, their diversity and their differences draw us in and audiences have responded to that.

The Night Of
Source: HBO

Shooting for such a show can be a little heavy right? How were things on-set?

Exactly the opposite. Riz Ahmed and Peyman Moaadi are the funniest guys I’ve ever met. Peyman and I watch the show together and we’re always taking about how we were in splits before every scene. However, there were scenes where the room was electric. The first time we visit Riz in jail and I have a plate of food in my hand, that was a really harrowing and intense experience. I think we really came together as a family after that scene and to this day, the three of us have a very strong, familial bond.

You worked with the late James Gandolfini, can you describe the experience?

We had no scenes together unfortunately. He died right after the first episode and I don’t meet that character till later on in the story. I met James during the initial process in NYC – he had just had a baby a few days before and he was exhausted but happy to get this project off the ground. I’ve obviously been a huge, he fan of his and this project, The Night Of, is dedicated to him. It went forward as a tribute to him.

We HAVE to ask about Delhi Belly, it’s a cult film now, tell us one thing no one knows about Delhi Belly?

I wanted to be a journalist (I actually went to journalism school) and Shenaz (Shenaz Treasury) wanted to be an air-hostess in real life. We got to play out our fantasies in Delhi Belly.

Delhi Belly
Delhi Belly

You had a cameo in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, do you see yourself as a full-fledged Bollywood heroine?

Ya man. There’s a tree somewhere waiting for me to twirl around it. In all seriousness, I’m attracted to good scripts so no matter where it comes from, I go to it. Movies like Queen and Lunchbox make me feel pretty confident I’ll be back in India soon.

If you had only 24 hours to live, what would you do?

I’d sit in Elco with my husband, son and dog, and eat pani puri. No question about it. For 24 hours.

Please tell John Turturro I’ve had a crush on him since The Big Lebowski, how was it working with him and Riz Ahmed (who I love too, there’s just a lot of love in my heart)?

I’m really now sinking into the absolute genius that is John Turturro. After reading the script and seeing how he interpreted it, I watch him with the utmost awe. Riz…I don’t have the words to tell you how much I absolutely love him. I love his music, his activism and he’s one of the few people I know with such a fierce fight in him.

And finally, the one Bollywood actor/actress and director you’d love to work with!

I thought Ranbir Kapoor was all sorts of amazing. He’s an effortless actor and I’d love to work with him again. Ayan is terrific. I have the utmost respect for Ashim Ahluwalia‘s and Vishal Bhradwaj’s work. And if Akshat Verma (writer of Delhi Belly) writes something for me again, I will be on a plane to somewhere right away.

Catch the exciting series finale of The Night Of on Star World Premiere HD on Wednesday, 31st August at 10:00 PM.

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