He studied Fine Arts at the Sir JJ School of Arts, Mumbai, and commenced his artistic career as a painter. As a painter, he had seven one-man exhibitions and participated in many group shows. He has been active in the avant garde theatre in India. He has been active in Marathi and Hindi theatre as an actor, director and producer since 1967. His contribution to the modern Indian theatre often gets overshadowed by his popularity as a lead actor in Hindi films..
As an actor, he was most prominent for over a decade from 1970. His image as a "boy next door" contrasted with the larger-than-life heroes prevalent at that time in Indian cinema. He received one Filmfare and six State awards as Best Actor. His performances in regional language films in Marathi, Bengali, Malayalam and Kannada fetched him critical acclaim as well. He decided not to act after 1986 in order to concentrate on filmmaking.
As a director, he is known for the sensitive portrayal of women, selection of classic stories from Indian literature, and perceptive handling of progressive issues. He has directed several television serials on the national network such as "Kachchi Dhoop", "Mrignayani", "Naquab", "Paool Khuna" and "Krishna Kali".
Palekar began in Marathi experimental theatre with Satyadev Dubey, and later started his own group, Aniket, in 1972.
Palekar made his debut in 1971 with the Marathi film Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe directed by Satyadev Dubey, which started the New Cinema Movement in Marathi. In 1974 he was cast as an actor by Basu Chatterjee in Rajnigandha, and in the surprise low-budget hit, Chhoti Si Baat. This led to many other such roles in "middle-class" comedies, mostly alternative cinema. These were often taken by other people as offensive and was directed by Chatterjee or Hrishikesh Mukherjee and include such films as Gol Maal and Naram Garam. He won the Filmfare Best Actor Award for Gol Maal.
He is noted for his image of the "middle-class everyman" who struggles to get a job (Gol-Maal), his own flat (Gharonda), a girlfriend/wife (Baaton Baaton Mein), and appreciation from his boss.
In 1979, he was paired with a 16 year old Sridevi in Solva Saawan, which was her debut Hindi movie as a heroine. Amol played the role of a mentally retarded, handicapped man, a character played by Kamal Haasan in the original Tamil movie.
In 1982 he played the role of Ravi in the Malayalam movie Olangal. He turned to directing with the Marathi film Aakriet. He showed his capabilities as a director with movies such as Thodasa Roomani Ho Jaayen and Paheli. Thodasa Roomani Ho Jaayen has become a part of management courses and study pertaining to human behaviour. Paheli was India's official entry for Best Foreign Film at the 2006 Oscars. The movie, however, did not make it to the final nominations.
He has also given his voice to an HIV/AIDS education animated software tutorial created by the nonprofit organization TeachAIDS. He is willing to act once again if he is given a challenging role.
Amol Palekar was born to Kamlakar and Suhasini Palekar in a lower-middle-class family in Mumbai. He was raised along with his three sisters, Neelam, Rekha and Unnati, by his father who worked in the General Post Office and his mother who worked in a private company. He used to work at the Bank of India before he switched full-time to a career in acting. He also does some social work. He has two daughters and married writer Sandhya Gokhale after his divorce from his first wife, Chitra. Palekar regards himself as an agnostic atheist.Aakreit (Unimaginable in Marathi) – 1981
Ankahee (Unspoken) – 1985
Thodasa Rumani Ho Jaye – 1990
Bangarwadi – 1995
Daayraa (The Square Circle) – 1996
Kairee (Raw mango) – 2001
Dhyaas Parva (Kal Kaa Aadmi in Hindi) – 2001 (based on Raghunath Karve's life, won the National Award for Best Film on Family Welfare)
Paheli (Riddle) – 2005 (India's official entry to the 78th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film)
Quest (English) – 2006 (won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in English)
Samaantar (Marathi) – 2009
...And Once Again – 2010
Dhoosar (Marathi) – 2011 (won the Maharashtra State Film Award)
Mother (Bengali) (with Sharmila Tagore & Dipankar Dey)
Kalankini (Bengali) (with Mamata Shankar – Directed by Dhiren Ganguly)
Chena Achena (Bengali) (with Tanuja & Soumitra Chaterjee)
Kanneshwara Rama (Kannada) (with Anant Nag & Shabana Aazmi – Directed by M.S.Sathyu)
Paper Boats (Kannada & English) (with Deepa - Directed by Pattabhirama Reddy)
Olangal (Malayalam) (with Poornima Jyaram & Ambika - Directed by Balu Mahendra)
Kachchi Dhoop – 1987
Naqab – 1988
Paoolkhuna – 1993
Mrignayanee – 1991
Kareena Kareena – 2004
AA Bail Mujhe Maar - 1987
Ek Nayi Ummeed-Roshni – 2015