Naval was born in Amritsar, Punjab, but moved to New York City when her father got a teaching job at the City University. She studied fine arts at Hunter College.
Naval made her debut in 1978 with Shyam Benegal's film Junoon. Two years later, she played a lead role in the critically acclaimed Ek Baar Phir. Alongside Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi, she became one of the key actresses of 1980s Parallel Cinema, earning praise for her roles in films like Kamla (1984) or Ankahee (1985).
Starting with Chashme Buddoor in 1981, she was often cast with Farooq Shaikh and they became one of India's most iconic on-screen couples of the early 1980s, with films such as Saath Saath, Kissi Se Na Kehna, Katha and Rang Birangi. Three decades later, they were reunited in Tell Me O Kkhuda (2011). Their last film together was Listen... Amaya which was released in 2013, the year of Shaikh's death.
While she was very prolific in the 1980s, her career slowed down in the 1990s and she seized the opportunity to explore other art forms. She came back in the 2000s with social dramas like Bawandar or Firaaq, and won Best Actress awards in several international film festivals for her roles in Leela (2002), Memories in March (2010) and Listen... Amaya (2013). She was also recognized as the 2007 Tribute Honoree of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.
Mostly present in Hindi cinema, Naval also acted in other Indian languages, as with the critically acclaimed Marhi Da Deeva and Mane, which respectively won the award for Best Feature Film in Punjabi and Best Feature Film in Kannada at the 1990 National Film Awards ceremony. She was to make her debut in a Bengali movie under director Sanjoy Nag but the film - Memories in March - was eventually shot in English.
Naval has been active on TV with a few telefilms and serials such as Sauda (1992), Tanaav (1994) or Muqammal (2003). She came back in 2011 with the daily soap opera Mukti Bandhan on Colors. She made her theater debut in 2015 with the poetic stage show Ek Mulaqaat in which she played the celebrated Punjabi writer Amrita Pritam.
Naval made her directorial debut with Do Paise Ki Dhoop, Chaar Aane Ki Baarish starring Manisha Koirala and Rajit Kapoor. The film won the Best Screenplay Award at the 2009 New York Indian Film Festival but remains unreleased. She also wrote and directed Thoda Sa Aasmaan, a TV serial about women, and produced a travel show, The Path Less Travelled.
A first selection of poems in Hindi, Lamha Lamha was published in 1983. In 2004, MapinLit brought out a new collection called Black Wind and Other Poems. Naval is also the author of a collection of short stories, The Mad Tibetan, published in 2011.
Naval is also a painter and photographer with several exhibitions to her credit. Her works as a painter include the controversial Pregnant Nun. She also runs the Vinod Pandit Charitable Trust, set up in memory of her late companion, for the education of the girl child.
Deepti Naval was married to the filmmaker Prakash Jha and the two have an adopted daughter, Disha. Deepti was later engaged to Vinod Pandit, the nephew of pandit Jasraj. But untimely death took him away.1988, Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards, Best Supporting Actress, Mirch Masala
2003, Best Supporting Actress Award at the Karachi Film Festival
2012, Best Actress Award at the Imagine India Film Festival (Spain)
2013, Best Actress Award at the New York Indian Film Festival