Kulkarni made her film debut with the 1992 movie Tirangaa. In 1993, she starred in Aashiq Awara, which won her a Filmfare Award for Lux New Face of the Year. She went on to appear in many popular films such as Waqt Hamara Hai (1993), Krantiveer (1994), Karan Arjun (1995), Sabse Bada Khiladi (1995) and Baazi (1995). She mostly played the leading actor's love interest in all these films.
Things seemed to change when Rajkumar Santoshi, in whose earlier movie Ghatak: Lethal (1996) she had a cameo appearance in a song, cast her as the female lead in his 1998 movie China Gate, an ambitious remake of Seven Samurai. However, things did not go as planned. Relations between Santoshi and the actress soured, and rumours began circulating that Kulkarni was dropped from the movie, and reinstated only after gangster Chhota Rajan intervened on her behalf. When the movie was finally released, it was a huge flop. Furthermore, the only song in the movie, the item number "Chamma Chamma", was picturised on Urmila Matondkar, even though Kulkarni had built her reputation with such numbers. To add insult to injury, the song turned out to be a chartbuster, greatly increased Matondkar's popularity and was even used in Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge!.
Angered at the turn of events, Kulkarni lashed out at Santoshi, accusing him of cutting her screen time because she had refused his advances. Santoshi denied all rumours related to the movie, and the matter was given a quiet burial. However, this proved to be the death blow to Kulkarni's career. She only appeared in a handful of movies after that, and new offers dried up. She quit movies after the 2002 film Kabhie Tum Kabhie Hum. Kulkarni also did few movies in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Malayalam.
During her career she was offered films with Mithun Chakraborty, Ajay Devgan, Bobby Deol, Shahrukh Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Akshay Khanna, Salman Khan, Govinda, Anil Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan and Aamir Khan. She turned down many big films such as Sapoot, Angaaray, Mr and Mrs Khiladi, Bandahan, Aunty No.1, Dulhe Raja, Davaa, Shikari, Hogi Pyar Ki Jeet and Kareeb because her role was not substantial.
She married Vikram Goswami in 2013.
In June 2016, the Thane Police named Kulkarni as one of the accused involved in supplying ephedrine for illicit manufacture of methamphetamine to a ₹2000 crore international drug racket and gangster, intended for trafficking. Kulkarni along with her partner Vicky Goswami and other co-culprits attended a meeting in an international drug ring in Kenya in January 2016.
The crime branch of Thane police, which is investigating an international ephedrine supply racket, on 25 June 2017 issued a notice of 'proclaimed offender' to her and her partner and drug lord Vicky Goswami. A team of crime branch officials went to Kulkarni's house at Sky Enclave in Versova, suburban Mumbai, and pasted a notice on the door, as the actress' whereabouts are not known. A special Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act court has declared Kulkarni and Goswami as proclaimed offenders and ordered attachment of their properties.