She took birth in a Tamil Urdu speaking Muslim family on 3 February 1938, in Chengalpattu, Tamil Nadu.Her dream was to become a successful doctor but due to circumstances of illness, she dropped this goal. But her parents were too supportive to her debut on silver screen. From the very childhood, she started learning dance forms, especially in the Bharata Natyam dance form. She made her debut into the Telugu industry via two films 'Jayasimha' (1955) and '
Rojulu Marayi'(1955). She also had a film made in Tamil called 'Kalam Mari Pochu'. All these films were a hit, but she got recognition from the song Eruvaaka Sagaroranno Chinnanna from Rojulu Marayi. At the success party of Rojulu Marayi,
Guru Dutt observed her and presented her a film titled CID. she had one of the best debuts into the industry and after watching her performance in CID, this made Guru Dutt to cast her in five films more. She got hit films like Pyaasa, Full Moon by Guru Dutt but after a alleged affair with Guru Dutt which resulted in the breakage of his marriage they both parted ways.
She then shared the screen space with
Dev Anand in many hit films which include CID (1956), Solva Saal (1958), Kala Bazar(1960), Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962) and Guide (1965). She gave a lot of hit films to the industry after that. But it was the film Guide which gave her the recognition as a wonderful and talented actress for which she received the Best Actress Filmfare Award for her role in Guide. She also received Filmfare Best Actress Award for Neel Kamal and National Award for Reshma Aur Shera. She also acted in commercial films like
Ram Aur Shyam and Patthar ke Sanam which gave her huge success at the box office, but it was the film Khamoshi with
Rajesh Khanna which became her career's biggest hit film. She married to Shashi Rakhi(screen name - Kamaljit) on 27th April 1974. Kamaljit was a businessman and earlier tried his luck into the industry. After the marriage, she opted out from the acting line and started to give attention towards her cereal brand and moved to Bangalore. She was blessed with two children, a son named Sohail and a daughter named Kashvi. But when her husband became ill and died in 2000 she again moved to Mumbai and started to act in films. Now she mostly plays the role of elderly woman and appeared in 9 films as an elderly woman. She is a close associate of former actress Nanda.