Dutta won the annual Gladsrags modelling competition in her native India, thus winning the right to be the first Indian representative at the 1997 Miss Intercontinental pageant, in which she took first place. Later, she was crowned Femina Miss India Universe and Miss Universe in 2000.
At Miss Universe 2000 in Cyprus, Dutta was the clear favourite ahead of fierce competition from Venezuela, Spain, USA and Canada. Her finalist interview score, in the last year that such marks were televised, was the highest individual score in any category in the history of the Miss Universe contest, as her perfect interview saw a majority of the judges giving her the maximum 9.99 mark. After her final question, in which Dutta delivered a passionate defense of the Miss Universe contest (and other beauty pageants), she became the second Indian Miss Universe. Dutta clinched the Oscar dela Renta swimsuit competition, winning the Best in Swimsuit Award.
She made her film debut in 2003 with the film Andaaz which was a box office success and won her a Filmfare Best Female Debut Award. She then appeared in a number of films some of which flopped and some were successful. Her box office hits include Masti (2004), Kaal (2005), No Entry (2005) and Dosti: Friends Forever (2005).
According to the Miss India-Universe site, Lara Dutta states that she's ethnically Tamil/Punjabi/Nordic. 2004, Star Screen Award Most Promising Newcomer - Female, Andaaz. 2004, Filmfare Debut Award, Andaaz (joint winner with Priyanka Chopra)