She was born in Kanpur and educated at Loreto House, Kolkata and Asansol.

She began her career in films in 1957, with Satyajit Ray's "Apur Sansar" ( the World of Apu ) and has, until now, acted in over 100 Bengali and Hindi films, notably " Nirjan Saikate" ( Bengali, 1963) " Mausam" ( Hindi, 1976) and Abar Aranye" ( Bengali, 2003) for all of which she won the National Award: and "Devi" (1959), "Anupama" ( 1965), "Satyakaam" (1966), "Aradhana" (1968), "Amar Prem" (1972), "New Delhi Times" (1986), "Mississippi Masala" (1988),"Viruddh" (2005) and "Antaheen" (2009) (Bengali)

The ministry of Culture and Communications of the Government of France honoured her, in 1999, by making her an "Officer de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" ( Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters ).Napier University in Edinburgh recently conferred honorary doctorate of art on her.

Widow of Mansur Ali Khan,Nawab of Pataudi. They have three children: a son, Saif Ali Khan (actor) and two daughters, Saba Ali Khan ( jewellery designer) and Soha Ali Khan (actor).

Apart from acting, she has been, and remains, actively involved in social work both in India and abroad. She is UNICEF's Goodwill Ambassador and works in the field of maternal health and children's causes, works for the corneally challenged with the Venu Eye Institute, and is a Board member of the PSB trust. She received the Padma Bhushan Award in 2013.

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