Born into a Brahmin Iyengar family, Hema Malini was educated at Andhra Mahila Sabha, Chennai, Hema first tried to enter films in 1964, but was rejected; Tamil director Sridhar said she had no star appeal. She persisted and found her niche in Bollywood. She debuted in a 1968 film Sapnon ka Saudagar ("The Dreamseller), playing a young teen opposite the ageing superstar Raj Kapoor. With Dev Anand in Johnny Mera Naam (1970), Hema became a top star and with Dharmendra in Seeta Aur Geeta (1972) she was the top female star in Bollywood and became one of the reigning divas of the Bollywood film industry. Her fans called her The Dream Girl of Bollywood (an allusion to her first film).
She starred in many movies and is perhaps best remembered for her glamour, style, and accomplished classical dancing. She formed a hit pair with Dharmendra and the duo gave a number of hit movies. She also achieved some strong dramatic or comic moments in films like Lal Patthar, Seeta Aur Geeta, Sholay, Meera and Satte Pe Satta.
After having a back seat from films for a number of years, she has recently made a comeback of sorts. She co-starred with Amitabh Bachchan in the successful film Baghban, and played a cameo role (also opposite Bachchan) in the 2004 blockbuster Veer-Zaara. In both films, she played a beautiful , self-possessed, middle-aged married woman rather than the ingenue role of her earlier career.
She tried her hand at directing and made the 1992 film Dil Aashna Hai which featured an all-star cast including Shahrukh Khan and the late Divya Bharti. She also directed and starred in the TV Serial Noopur, in which she was depicted as a Bharatanatyam dancer going to America.