New Delhi : Poorna Jaganathan, currently starring on critically-acclaimed drama “The Night Of”, believes the success of Priyanka Chopra and Aziz Ansari in American TV shows will open more doors for South Asian actors.
The “Delhi Belly” star plays Riz Ahmed’s mother Safar on the HBO show. Safar and her husband, played by Peyman Moaadi, are Pakistani immigrants on the show.
When asked whether she was surprised to see a prime show center around a South Asian family, Poorna says that was one of the reasons for her to join the project as it is very rare to see a show focus on the community.
“The writing is a masterpiece – I have never come across writing so haunting and characters who are so intricate. It’s also not every day you come across a South Asian family on TV that feels real and relatable” Poorna told PTI in an email interview.
“There’s such stereotyping that goes on in American media and South Asian characters have historically been so paper-thin and one dimensional.”
The actress attributes the change in the mindset to the ongoing debate about lack of diversity in Hollywood.
“The hollow portrayal of communities and people is not flying anymore. Hollywood is being called out on its racism. Also, there are many more writers of colour who are on important shows and they are building characters and storylines that are three dimensional.”
She thinks that people like Priyanka, who is fronting “Quantico” and Ansari, the man behind Netflix’s runaway hit “Master of None”, are among the people driving this change.
“Priyanka and Aziz are making tectonic shifts in the business and opening doors for South Asians are actors like Sarita Choudhury, Aasif Mandvi, Samrat Chakrabarti, Sakina Jaffrey and so many more. They are changing the fabric of film and television with their nuanced portrayals.”
Poorna, 43, says she herself has zero tolerance for roles that feed off racial stereotyping.
“There’s a revolution happening and the system has to respond to it. I don’t audition anymore for shows or characters I feel are racist. I have zero desire to add to the growing Islamophobia and there are so many shows that are feeding off of it.
“There are many actors who are willing to take the risk and say no to roles now more than ever. We all have a stake at shaping our future and how we are seen. That would not have happened 10 years ago. 10 years ago, we were all dying to say just one line on ‘ER’.”
“The Night Of”, airing on Star World Premiere HD every Wednesday at 10:00 PM in India, has been lauded for its nuanced portrayal of criminal justice system and performances by its star cast — Ahmed, John Turturro, Poorna and Moaadi.
The show, which faced an uncertain future initially, had
late actor James Gandolfini in a key role but Turturro came onboard after his death.
Poorna says she could relate to her role of Safar and what she is going through as her son is accused of murder.
“Who she was and what she was up against hit a huge nerve with me. I could see myself in her position so easily… I met many American Muslim women as part of my research just to see what made them tick but at the end I played Safar like a mix between my sister and my mother.”
Poorna says what made it a challenging character was that she did not have that many dialogues and creator Steven Zaillian demanded simplicity in the performance.
“Safar doesn’t have many lines and as an actor, I had to convey so much with so little. Steve and me went through a whole process in the beginning, trying to strike a balance- he wanted a very stripped down, simple performance and sometimes it was hard to give him that.”
Poorna has become good friends with Ahmed and Moaadi and counts them among the funniest people she knows.
“Riz was also a huge support to me when I was trying to get the word out about Nirbhaya (her play) and Payman and I try and see most episodes together. And both of them are two of the funniest people I have ever met and by far, the most talented.”
Poorna says she was proud to be a part of “Delhi Belly” but currently has no projects out of India. She has a new TV show and movies like “Growing up Smith”, “The Circle”, “Carrie Pilby” and “Daisy Winters” releasing next year.