Image Source: Netflix / Poorna Jagannathan
They say the best friendships are those that come unexpectedly. That statement couldn't be more true for "Never Have I Ever" costars and real-life besties Richa Moorjani and Poorna Jagannathan. Four years ago, the pair met on the set of their hit Netflix series — which follows first-generation Indian American high-schooler Devi (played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and her quest to navigate friendship, family, and the traumatic loss of her father. The two tell POPSUGAR that from the moment they first met, it was an almost instant connection between them that has since grown into a dear sisterhood — one that's been built on their shared Indian heritage and experiences coming up in Hollywood.
"I'm much more new to this industry than Poorna is, and I've never had somebody that I could ask questions and learn from. I feel extremely lucky and privileged that I get to learn from her," shares Moorjani, who plays Kamala, Devi's cousin, in the series. "She really is a mentor to me and more than just a friend and someone that I know always has my back and vice versa . . . It's just so rare to be able to have somebody like that to get through these things together."
"It just shows the importance of having a true friend in the industry in which you come from."
From finishing each other's sentences to joking that they "share a brain," the pair are grateful for the way life brought them together and gave them a chance to grow with one another. "It just shows the importance of having a true friend in the industry in which you come from," notes Jagannathan, who plays Devi's mother, Nalini.
More than that, the costars also value the fact that there's "something so special about being South Asian and understanding what we go through in this industry," Moorjani continues. "Being able to celebrate each other's successes, because we understand what it means, and also be there for each other when something doesn't go well, because we also know what that means."
Read on to experience the acting pair in conversation with each other and find out what else they told POPSUGAR about their sweet friendship — from the one-of-a-kind bond they struck up on the "Never Have I Ever" set to the importance of showing up for their South Asian community. And be sure to check out more stories centreed on friendship in honour of APIA Heritage Month here.
On the Roots of Their Friendship
Richa Moorjani: I will say that before we were friends, Poorna I didn't know I existed, but I was her biggest fan. We coincidentally lived in Mumbai at the same time several years ago. We didn't know each other at that time, but we were both living there. Poorna had produced and acted in this incredible production called "Nirbhaya" and it was being performed at a theatre in Mumbai, and I had gone to go see it. It's such a powerful story . . . I was just blown away by her, and I never forgot her.
"We have such a strong bond of dependency and family and that manifested in our friendship."
A few years later is when "Never Have I Ever" happened. And when I found out that she was cast and I was cast and that I got to act with her, I was so starstruck. I went up to her the first day at the table read and I was like, "Hi, you don't know me, but I'm your biggest fan, and I'm so excited to work with you." She probably thought I was a freak, but then we became best friends like a day later.
Poorna Jagannathan: It immediately was a very intense connection for me when I met Richa. But beyond that, it's just been a sisterhood that we've spent four years together and we have grown with these characters. And real life really started mirroring what was happening on TV, which is the characters of Nalini and Kamala have so much in common. They're both immigrants, they're both struggling to find identity, they're struggling to find love, and in the show, we have such a strong bond of dependency and family, and that manifested in our friendship.
On Their Unique Bond as Costars
Richa: I have never had this strong of a connection with any costar where it left just being on set together and continued. We haven't been on set together in a year now and we're just as close. If not, we've become closer every day, in my opinion.
Poorna: One of my first movies was with my other best friend, Sarita Choudhury. We are very, very close, but it felt different because Richa and I professionally grew, and the conversations that "Never Have I Ever" opened up also were opening up for us at the same time.
This is the first time that we were allowed to bring our full selves to set. We were allowed to bring our shared experiences, our history, our heritage to set. And in my 15 years of acting, I've never explored that. So to explore that part of where we come from, our ancestry, the things that our mothers would do and our grandmothers would say, and the food on the table, eating with our hands. Being able to go through that particular journey together, I think it was an intense bond. I think the journey is not only as actors and friends, it's just showing up for each other and for our community stronger. I feel so privileged to have Richa always by my side. And I will tell you, if I have good news, she's one of the first people I call. Bad news, she's one of the first people I call. And vice versa.
On Amplifying South Asian Representation With "Never Have I Ever"Netflix / Poorna Jagannathan
Richa: It's something that we feel very privileged to do. It's something that we've always dreamed of happening, and to be a part of it is truly a dream come true. But we really do feel like we're only scratching the surface, and there's still so much work to be done. So many stories to tell and so much more we as artists and as South Asian actresses want to be able to do and to explore together. Hopefully, we'll get to work together again in so many different things and play totally different roles. But I feel the impact of the show and how it's impacted other people, and the stories that fans have told me of how the show has impacted them really mean a lot to us. It's not something that we take lightly, and it just fuels us to want to be able to do so much more.
"Every set that I'm on or every meeting that I'm in, I feel the presence of support, of sisterhood."
Poorna: I feel like we were one of the firsts to bring such to mainstream television, a story that is so specific and yet so universal. And in the past four years, so much has happened. There's been a proliferation of South Asian stories. We have a [vice president] who's half South Asian, Diwali has now become mainstream. Five years ago, the landscape was 180 degrees different. It's radically different.
When you are on set, you are the only person who looks like you with your background on that set. I often say my heritage is definitely the thing that used to make me feel like an outsider, and it's the very thing that's given me a huge sense of belonging. Yesterday, [Vice President Harris] said these words: "You will often find that when you walk into that boardroom . . . you are the only one there who looks like you, or has had your life experience . . you are not alone. Don't ever walk into those rooms being made to feel or think that you are alone. We are all in that room with you." Those words really resonated with me, and I feel that with my friendship with Richa. Every set that I'm on or every meeting that I'm in, I feel the presence of support, of sisterhood.
Richa: That's because you FaceTime me from every set that you're on and vice versa. Literally, while we're in the makeup chair, when we're in our trailers, in between scenes, we just FaceTime each other.
Poorna: It's true. Literally.
Image Source: Netflix
On Their Fondest Memories From Filming "Never Have I Ever"
Poorna: For me, it's always the last episode of season one. How about for you, Richa?
Richa: That's always been my answer, is the last episode of season one. There was something just so powerful about shooting that scene and, of course, how the scene actually came out. We just felt so connected. All three of us were so connected that day, and I think it was the last scene I shot, at least, of that season. We didn't know if we were going to get another season. We didn't even know if the show was going to do well. We didn't know anything because it was the first season. But I just remember in that moment really feeling like we've made something so special and we've gotten to do it together and how beautiful is that?
"I've never had a friendship like this before where I felt so fully understood, fully seen, fully supported, and vice versa."
Poorna: We got so many [seasons]. That's the other thing that's unheard of. In my 15 years, I cannot tell you how many pilots with South Asians were not green lit. I cannot tell you how many have just ended up on floors; the pilots that have been shot and never been approved. So this feat of four years is so tremendous to get to tell this story and it being unique and suddenly it's part of the fabric, part of the tapestry, of what it means to be South Asian in America. It's tremendous. I do believe this show has opened up the conversation and made it a little easier for other creators of colour to get green lit, I really do.
On What Their Friendship Has Taught Them
Richa: I've never had a friendship like this before where I felt so fully understood, fully seen, fully supported, and vice versa. Because we may have friendships similar to this outside of people that we work with or who are in this industry, and those are also extremely important friendships and relationships. But when you're doing what we are doing — which is such a specific, terrifying thing — to be able to go through it with somebody who shares your heritage and all of that background and experience and understands what you're trying to do . . . is such a rare thing.
"I don't know what I would do without this friendship."
If anything, I've learned how hard it is to do this alone. Maybe in the past, I thought, I don't need anybody, I can do it alone, but I can't. I don't know what I would do without this friendship. Poorna has already said this, but in the good times and the bad times, she really is the first person I call. She's the only person that I can talk to who fully understands the situation before I've even told her what happened and knows exactly what to say. She knows exactly what to say, and it's never too much and it's never too little. It's exactly what I need to hear in that moment and I'm just so grateful for it because that's so rare.
Poorna: Everything that Richa said. We've had a lot of good times and a lot of bad times, and the fact that Richa has been witness to everything in between as a person and as an actor, personally and professionally, has meant so much. I'm really struck by something that's really on my mind, which is you have such good intentions of, "Oh, this is who I want to be to the outside world." I want to be more there for my community or more politically engaged. I just want to show up better. On set, we were asked to bring our full selves. I want to bring my full self to this community that is celebrated and struggling at the same time. And to have Richa by my side to motivate, to keep me accountable, to grow with, to learn with, I really do think it's our next phase of our friendship. And I'm hugely grateful.