She has established a career in Bollywood and is one of the highest-paid actresses in India.
Determined to build her own career path, she relocated to Delhi at age sixteen, where she briefly became a model.
After training under the theatre director Arvind Gaur, Ranaut made her feature film debut in the 2006 thriller Gangster, for which she was awarded the Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut.
She received praise for portraying emotionally intense characters in the dramas Woh Lamhe (2006), Life in a... For the last of these, she won the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress and a Filmfare Award in the same category.
Ranaut featured in the commercially successful films Raaz: The Mystery Continues (2009) and Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (2010), though she was criticised for being typecast in neurotic roles. Madhavan in the 2011 box office hit Tanu Weds Manu was well-received, though this was followed by a series of brief, glamorous roles in films that failed to propel her career forward.
She was cast in the central role of Simran, an alcoholic woman caught in a romantic triangle between a notorious gangster (played by Shiney Ahuja) and a sympathetic friend (played by Emraan Hashmi).