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 sport to become a fashion model. She soon received offers for film roles, and made her acting debut in 2006 as the titular character of the Kannada film Aishwarya. Padukone then played dual roles in her first Bollywood release—the 2007 blockbuster Om Shanti Om—and won a Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut.
Padukone received praise for portraying the lead female roles in the 2009 romance Love Aaj Kal and the 2010 drama Lafangey Parindey, but her performances in the 2008 romantic comedy Bachna Ae Haseeno and the 2010 comedy Housefull met with negative reviews. She followed it with roles in a series of commercially unsuccessful films that failed to propel her career forward. The 2012 box office hit Cocktail marked a significant turning point in her career, earning her critical acclaim and Best Actress nominations at several award ceremonies. In 2013, Padukone established herself as a leading actress of Hindi cinema by playing primary roles in the comedies Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Chennai Express (both of which rank among the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time), and won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress for her performance in the tragic romance Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela.