Jaya Prada was born as Lalita Rani in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh. Her father, Krishna Rao, was a Telugu film financier. Her mother, Neelaveni, was a home-maker and a very pious lady. The young Lalitha attended a Telugu medium school in Rajahmundry and was also enrolled in dance and music classes at an early age.
When Jaya Prada was 14 years old, she performed a dance at her school's annual function. A film director in the audience offered her a three-minute dance number in the Telugu film Bhoomi Kosam. She was hesitant, but her family encouraged her to accept it. She was paid only 10 rupees for her work in the film, but the rushes of those three minutes of film were shown to the major figures of the Telugu film industry. Major filmmakers offered her starring roles in quality films, and she accepted them. She became a huge star in 1976 at the age of 17 with major hit films. Director K. Balachander's black-and-white film Anthuleni Katha (1976) showcased her dramatic skills; K. Viswanath's color film Siri Siri Muvva (1976) showed her playing a mute with excellent dancing skills; and her title role as Sita in the big-budget mythological film Seetha Kalyanam confirmed her versatility. In 1977, she starred in Adavi Ramudu, which broke box office records and which permanently cemented her star status. The song "Aaresukoboyi Paresukunnanu" performed by Prada and co-star N.T. Rama Rao became a mass hit. Important filmmakers were casting her and repeating her in their films. Filmmaker Vijay introduced her to Kannada cinema in his 1977 super-hit movie Sanadi Appanna alongside Kannada matinee idol Raj Kumar. The movie is also known to be the only movie to feature shehnai rendition by Ustad Bismillah Khan. Jaya Prada repeated her successful pairing with Rajkumar in films such as Huliya Halina Mevu (1979), Kaviratna Kalidasa (1983) and Shabdavedhi (2000). In 1979, K. Balachander repeated her in the Tamil film Ninaithale Inikkum opposite Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth in which she played a terminally-ill patient. She continued to act in more films in Telugu opposite actors such NTR, ANR, Krishna, Krishnam Raju and Sobhan Babu throughout the 70s and 80s. K. Viswanath remade Siri Siri Muvva (1976) in Hindi as Sargam, introducing Jayaprada to Bollywood in 1979. The film was successful and she became a star there as well. She earned her first Filmfare nomination as Best Actress but couldn't capitalize on her success since she couldn't speak Hindi.
In 1981, she starred in the critically acclaimed Tamil film 47 Natkal for filmmaker K. Balachander in which Chiranjeevi played her villainous, bigamist husband. After she took Hindi lessons, director K. Vishwanath relaunched her in Hindi films, with the hit film Kaamchor where she spoke Hindi fluently for the first time. She was now able to consistently work in Hindi films, and earned two more Filmfare nominations as Best Actress for playing Amitabh Bachchan's endearing girlfriend in Prakash Mehra's Sharaabi (1984) and for her challenging double role in K. Vishwanath's Sanjog. Saagara Sangamam directed by K. Vishwanath, starring Kamal Hassan proved to be a milestone in her career, winning her many accolades including Filmfare Award for Best Actress - Telugu in 1983.
Jaya made a successful team not just with Amitabh Bachchan and Jeetendra, but also with her immediate screen rival Sridevi, with whom she has acted in about a dozen films. Their hit Telugu film Devatha (1982), where they played sisters who made huge sacrifices for each other, was remade into the hit Hindi film Tohfa (1984). These films endeared Jaya Prada to the traditional conservative section of film goers and she amassed a huge female fan following as well. It was an image that would serve her well when she started a new career as a politician.
In 1985, she acted in the Malayalam film Iniyum Katha Thudarum directed by Joshiy starring Mammootty, Baby Shalini and Ambika. The film portrayed her as the wife of Mammootty, leading to a tragic end of mother and daughter, the film ends with Mammootty taking revenge on his family's death.
Indian director Satyajit Ray described her as one of the prettiest women in the world. Although she has acted in Bengali films, she has never worked for Ray. (She claimed that Ray had her in mind for a film, but his illness and subsequent death prevented their collaboration).
Jaya Prada had a pairing with Aditya Pancholi in Zakhmi Zameen (1990). As she became involved in her political career since 1994, at the age of 32, her involvement with films reduced.
In 2000, She acted in the Malayalam film Devadoothan, starring Mohanlal, directed by Sibi Malayil. The film garnered immensely popular reviews from the critics but failed at the box office. But it met with great appreciation from the audience when released in Home Media and when aired on television. This movie had evergreen hit songs. In 2004, She acted in Ee Snehatheerathu, a Malayalam film as Kunchacko Boban's mother.
In 2002, she stepped into the Marathi film industry by being a guest in the movie Aadhaar. Thus far, she has acted in eight languages and has completed 300 films during a 30-year film career. She started playing mature roles in 2004.
She also owns the Jaya Prada Theater in Chennai.
In 2011, she returned to Malayalam screens with a strong role in Pranayam, alongside Mohanlal and Anupam Kher. She played the role of "Grace" in this film, which won her critical acclaim and several awards. Her 2012 Kannada film Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna (Sangolli Rayanna) that saw her donning the historical role of courageous Kittur Chennamma, completed 100 days at the box office.
In 1986, she married producer Srikanth Nahata, who was already married to Chandra and had 3 children. This marriage stirred a lot of controversy, especially since Nahata did not divorce his current wife and had children with his first wife after marrying Jaya Prada. Jaya Prada and Srikanth have no children together, although she had at one time expressed a desire to have children.
Jaya Prada joined the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1994 at the invitation of its founder N. T. Rama Rao, on the eve of the assembly elections, and rose quickly through the ranks. At that time there was speculation that she would run for election, but she preferred not to make her electoral debut, although she was offered a seat by Rao.
She campaigned in several constituencies in 1994. When Rao became the Chief minister in 1994, he appointed one of his sons-in-law Nara Chandrababu Naidu as the Revenue Minister. Soon after the formation of the government, Rao's health started deteriorating, and in response to the growing influence of his wife, Lakshmi Parvati, on the political decisions of NTR, Chandrababu Naidu convinced a majority of the TDP MLAs to elect him as the chief minister. Since most of the legislators had gone over to his side, the Anti Defection Law did not apply and the Telugu Desam Party label passed on to the Chandrababu Naidu faction. During this period, Prada too joined the Chandrababu Naidu faction of the party. She was nominated to the Rajya Sabha representing Andhra Pradesh in 1996. She also held the post of Telugu Mahila President.
Following differences with party Supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu, she left the TDP to join Samajwadi Party. She contested from Rampur parliamentary Constituency in UP during the 2004 General election and got elected with a margin of more than 85000 votes. During her campaign for the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, she was issued a notice by the Election Commission for violating the code of conduct by distributing bindis to women in Rampur's Swar locality. On 11 May 2009, Jaya Prada alleged that senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan was distributing nude pictures of her. She was re-elected with a margin of more than 30,000 votes.
After she came out in open support of the former General Secretary of the Samajwadi Party, Amar Singh, Prada was expelled from the party on 2 February 2010 for allegedly indulging in anti-party activities and damaging the party's secular image. Amar Singh, along with Jaya Prada floated his own political party, Rashtriya Lok Manch, in 2011, and fielded candidates in 360 of the 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh in the 2012 assembly polls. However, his party did not win a single seat in these elections. Later she, along with Amar Singh joined the RLD on 10 March 2014 and after that she got the ticket to contest from the Bijnor seat in the2014 general elections. She, however, lost the election.
Jaya Prada made her debut to the small screen with Local TV's show Jayapradam, where she was the host of the show and interviewed many of the celebrated actors and technicians including Kamal Hassan, Chiranjeevi, K. Viswanath, ANR, Ram Gopal Varma and many others. The show made her closer to the Telugu audience again.Nandi AwardsSpecial Jury Award – Anthuleni Katha (1976)Filmfare AwardsNominated - Best Actress - Sargam (1979)Nominated - Best Actress - Sharaabi (1984)Nominated - Best Actress - Sanjog (1985)Filmfare Awards SouthBest Actress – Telugu – Saagara Sangamam (1983)Lifetime Achievement Award – South (2007)Nominated - Best Supporting Actress - Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna (2012)Nominated - Best Actress - Pranayam (2011)Other awardsKalashree awardKala Saraswati AwardKinnera Savitri AwardRajiv Gandhi AwardNargis Dutt Gold MedalShakuntala Kala Rathnam AwardUttam Kumar AwardANR Achievement Award (2008)Venus of Indian Cinema Award from TSR TV9 Film Awards (2011)Nana Film Award for Best Actress – PranayamUjala Asianet Film Awards 2012 – Special Jury Award for PranayamAmrita Film Awards 2012 – Best Actress Award for PranayamMathrubhumi Kalyan Silks film awards 2012 – Best Character Actress Award for PranayamKerala Film Producers Association – Surya TV Film Awards 2012 – Outstanding Performance Award for PranayamAsiavision Movie Awards 2011 – Outstanding Performance Award for Pranayam