Padukone, the daughter of the badminton player Prakash Padukone, was born in Copenhagen and raised in Bangalore. As a teenager, she played badminton in national level championships but left her career in the sport to become a fashion model. She soon received offers for film roles and made her acting debut in 2006 as the title character of the Kannada film Aishwarya. Padukone then played a dual role in her first Bollywood release, the romance Om Shanti Om (2007), which won her the Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut. Padukone received praise for portraying the lead roles in the romance Love Aaj Kal (2009) and the drama Lafangey Parindey (2010), but her performances in the romance Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008) and the comedy Housefull (2010) were met with negative reviews.
The romantic comedy Cocktail (2012) marked a turning point in Padukone's career, earning her praise and Best Actress nominations at several award ceremonies. She established herself with starring roles in the romantic comedies Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Chennai Express (both 2013), the heist comedy Happy New Year (2014), and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's period dramas Bajirao Mastani (2015) and Padmaavat (2018), all of which rank among the highest-grossing Indian films. Padukone's acclaimed portrayal of a character based on Juliet in Bhansali's tragic romance Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013) and a headstrong architect in the comedy-drama Piku (2015) earned her two Filmfare Awards for Best Actress. Her first project in Hollywood came with the action film XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017).
Alongside her acting career, Padukone participates in stage shows, has written columns for an Indian newspaper, is a prominent celebrity endorser for brands and products, and is vocal about issues such as feminism and depression. She has designed her own line of clothing for women, is the chairperson of the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image and is the founder of the Live Love Laugh Foundation, which creates awareness on mental health in India. Padukone is married to her frequent co-star Ranveer Singh.