Vidya Balan started work as an actress in the Malayalam film Chakram, paired against Mohanlal. However, the film was abandoned mid-way through production. After making her debut in television advertising as a model for a Surf Excel advertisement in 1998, she proceeded to do over twenty-five television ads, mostly directed by Pradeep Sarkar.
This was then followed with a variety of acting stints in music videos for singers and bands such as Euphoria, Shubha Mudgal and Pankaj Udhas. Vidya also acted in Hindi soap operas like Hum Paanch and also made her cinematic debut in a Bengali movie, Bhaalo Theko, for which she won the Best Actress Anand Lok Puraskar award in Kolkata. She was also in a Raza.com commercial played all over the world, featuring Shaan's song "Tanha Dil".
In 2005, Balan debuted in her first feature film Parineeta, a Vidhu Vinod Chopra production in Hindi, directed by Pradeep Sarkar. The film met with widespread critical and commercial success. The film also led to a spate of movies being offered to the actress, most notably movies by leading directors including Mani Ratnam.
In 2006 she teamed up once again with Chopra and Sanjay Dutt for the film Lage Raho Munna Bhai. The movie was a major hit within India and was ranked #1 on the box office for eight weeks after its release.
Vidya will next be seen in Mani Ratnam's Guru where she will be seen essaying the role of a handicap . She will also be playing a trained dancer suffering from personality disorder in Priyadarshan's Chandramukhi, a remake of Malayalam blockbuster, Manichitrathazhu.
Vidya next release after Guru will be Nikhil Advani's Salaam E Ishq opposite John Abraham which is a story of the trials and tribulations of six couples from various backdrops followed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Eklavya in which she is paired opposite Saif Ali Khan . She also has Rajkumar Santoshi's Halla Bol opposite Ajay Devgan  and Sajid Khan's Hey Baby with Riteish Deshmukh and Akshay Kumar.
Her father, P.R. Balan, is the Vice President of ETC Channel and her mother is a housewife. She has an older sister, Priya Balan. She loves Indian classical music from Shivkumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia to Shubha Mudgal and Kishori Amonkar. As a Hindu, Vidya has stated that she is "extremely spiritual", having "firm faith in god" and has stated that she visits temples everyday .
Vidya has also been romantically linked with co-star John Abraham. She has since denied the allegation, referring to the rumours about her relationship with John as "vile"