Even if you don't know actress Poorna Jagannathan by name you have probably seen her playing on television... playing a doctor or computer tech, which she has done on many popular shows like Numb3ers and Law & Order. Poorna grew up as part of a Foreign Service family and had a globetrotting childhood places like Ireland, Buenos Aires, and my own Washington, DC. She began acting in college (University of Maryland, represent!) but didn't discover her true passion for the craft until a few years later, while working in an advertising company and doing theater on the side. Out went the "real job" and in came plays, television, and films.
But nothing could have prepared the New York City theater girl for a mainstream Bollywood film. Poorna plays Imran Khan's love interest in Delhi Belly and the gossip rags have already picked up the story of their onscreen lip lock and run with it! What a transition from scrubs and a stethoscope!
Poorna was kind enough to answer a few questions via e-mail for me.
FG: What was it like transitioning from Hollywood film/television to a real Bollywood film set? Did you find it difficult? Was the language a problem?
Poorna: I lucked out - Delhi Belly is an Aamir Khan production and was buttoned up right from the start. They ran a very tight ship. So no, it wasn't that much of a transition. There were however mosquitoes the size of a house in the trailers and we were given these little electric tennis rackets thingies to sizzle them to the bone - all a little gruesome but that's India. I spent some time in Pakistan and then I went to high school in India so Hindi is certainly very familiar. I can speak it, but I have to practice for a long time to speak it well. In Delhi Belly, I have a chunky scene in Hindi but Akshat Verma (the writer) and I worked a lot on getting it fluid and natural. I got it to a place where I don't sound American but I don't sound completely local. Somewhere in-between - like Dubai maybe!
FG:Did you grow up watching Hindi films?
Poorna: When I was really young, I grew up to Bollywood. I remember my mother would take us to our neighbors house and we'd crowd around their black and white TV and watch movies. But I was always very emotional and would start bawling within the first 10 minutes. I plugged out of the Indian cinema scene for a long time- I found them absolutely laborious and cliched. I'd watch the occasional independent film like Fire but for the most part was unaware that things were changing. Then I watched Dev D and now Hindi movies are my staple. I've actually been a juror for NYIFF for a couple of years and get to see A LOT of Indian films and documentaries.
FG: What was your experience like in Mumbai? Did you have the experience where you meet somebody and think nothing of it but then later it's explained that you just met a big star?
Poorna: Mumbai was pretty hard. Living in a new city away from my family and friends was challenging and lonely at times. There's no one to vent to after you've had a hard day and that sucked. But I slowly made friends and now I have this great, awesome circle of people there. Would I bump into big stars and not know it? Are you kidding me? You think there's a star in India who doesn't make sure you know who they are within the first 5 seconds?
[Now who could that have been... hmmm... *evil grin* - FG]
FG: Would you do another Indian film?
Poorna: Of course I would. I'm dying to.
FG: Now that Outsourced has been canceled, there really aren't a lot of other South Asian faces on American television. Do you find the stereotyping difficult to deal with in Hollywood or has it not been a problem?
Poorna: Yeah, it sucks that Outsourced got canceled. The stereotyping drives me mad. If I have to say 'defibrillator' one more time, I might go postal. But I recently moved back to New York from Los Angeles and things have been much better. New York is just more open, the shows shot here are so much more diverse and untraditional. And I get do a ton of stage work which keeps me sane.
A big thank you and 'good luck' to Poorna! Filmi Girl is hoping her filmi debut is successful!