Emma Watson and I used to discuss feminism on set: Poorna Jagannathan

Actress Poorna Jagannathan talks about The Circle, feminism, and the stereotyping of South Asian actors on screen

Nandita Ravi Published :  22nd June 2018 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  22nd June 2018 06:00 AM


Poorna Jagannathan might be MIA from the big screens of Bollywood — her last outing was Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani (2015) — but the actress has her hands full with a number of high-profile projects. After acting alongside the likes of Tom Hanks and Emma Watson (The Circle, 2017), she staged the award-winning production, Nirbhaya, and went on to make an impact with her portrayal of Safar Khan in the HBO series The Night Of, and even act alongside Naomi Watts in Netflix’s Gypsy. Jagannathan, 45, will next be seen in Mile 22 with Mark Wahlberg, and also in Season 2 of the hit show, Big Little Lies. With The Circle airing this week on TV, we catch up with the 45-year-old actress over a phone conversation from Los Angeles, on everything from films to feminism.

Not just girl talk
In The Circle, Jagannathan plays Dr Jessica Villalobos, who also works at a powerful tech company called the Circle. “My character meets Emma’s when she first enters the organisation. Mae (Watson) is starry-eyed and what I offer to her is the allure of a better, more connected and transparent future. Then things go terribly wrong,” she says. Off the sets, the two women got along really well. Often break times were spent discussing topics close to both the actresses hearts — feminism. “Emma was so relatable and funny. We talked about feminism and her journey with it. We also spoke about Emma’s ‘He For She’ campaign, which is a critical aspect of the feminist movement — making sure that men are fully aware, present and vocal about equal rights for women.”

Changing perceptions 
With an increasing number of South Asian actors making a mark in the international sphere, right from desi exports like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone, to actors like Aziz Ansari, Hasan Minaj and Mindy Kaling who were born and bred there, the representation of South Asian actors in TV and cinema is definitely on the rise. Jagannathan agrees but says that stereotyping are still the norm. “I have been in the industry for over 13 years now, and I have seen a tremendous change. This year alone, there were so many South Asian faces on TV and in films. But what’s really doing the heavy lifting in terms of shifting perceptions are South Asians creating their own material — like Mindy Kaling, Riz Ahmed, Aziz Ansari and Kumail Nanjiani. Priyanka Chopra is wildly popular and loved, but as long we play characters written by other people, our voice will never truly be ours. There will always be an ‘otherness’,” she signs off.