She led the Indian Film Censor Board from October 2004 till March 2011. In December 2005 she was chosen as an UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. She was one of the International Competition's Jury Members at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. In 2013, she was awarded Padma Bhushan by the Government of India.
Sharmila Tagore was born in Hyderabad, India, the daughter of Gitindranath Tagore, a general manager in the British India Corporation, by his wife Ira Tagore (née Barua). While Tagore's father belonged to a Bengali family, her mother came from an Assamese family, and both of them were distantly related to the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Gitindranath was the grandson of the noted painter Gaganendranath Tagore, whose own grandfather Girindranath had been a first cousin of the laureate. In fact, Sharmila Tagore is more closely related to Rabindranath Tagore through her mother: her maternal grandmother Latika Barua (née Tagore) was the granddaughter of Rabindranath Tagore's brother Dwijendranath Tagore. Tagore's maternal grandfather (husband of Latika Barua née Tagore) was Jnanadabhiram Barua, the first Principal of Earl Law College in Guwahati (now known as Government Law College), himself the son of the noted social worker Gunabhiram Barua. As a member of the Tagore family, Sharmila Tagore is also a distant relative of the actress Devika Rani and the painter Abanindranath Tagore (brother of Gaganendranath Tagore)
Tagore was the eldest of three children and had two younger sisters, the late Oindrila Kunda [Tinku Tagore] and Romila Sen [Chinky]. Oindrila was the first in the family to act in a film, and the only role she ever played was that of Mini, the child character (but a central character) in Tapan Sinha's film Kabuliwala (1957). In adulthood, she became an international bridge player. The other sister, Romila Sen, is the wife of Nikhil Sen, a corporate honcho who served as Chief Operating Officer of Britannia Industries for many years.
Tagore attended St. John's Diocesan Girls' Higher Secondary School and Loreto Convent, Asansol. She made her film debut when she was a 13-year-old schoolgirl, after which her studies lost priority, and she never finished school. Within a short while, her results in school became very bad, her attendance levels were very low, she came to be regarded as a bad influence on her classmates, and was faced with a choice of either doing films or studying further. At that point, her father advised her to move ahead in life, commit herself to a film career and 'give it her all' in order to become successful. She did as her father advised, and credits her parents for having supported her at every point in her life.
Tagore began her career as an actress in Satyajit Ray's 1959 Bengali film Apur Sansar (The World of Apu), as the ill-fated bride of the title character. She later appeared in Shakti Samanta's Kashmir Ki Kali in 1964. Samanta cast her in many more films, including An Evening in Paris (1967), in which she became the first Indian actress to appear in a bikini, which established Tagore as somewhat of a sex symbol in Hindi films. She also posed in a bikini for the glossy Filmfare magazine in 1968. But, when Tagore was the chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification 36 years later, she expressed concerns about the increased use of bikinis in Indian films.
Samanta later teamed up Tagore with Rajesh Khanna for movies such as Aradhana (1969) and Amar Prem (1972). Other directors paired them together in Safar (1970), Daag (1973), and Maalik (1972). The pair of Khanna-Sharmila gave 7 box office hits – Aradhana, Safar, Amar Prem, Chhoti Bahu, Daag, "Raja Rani" and Avishkaar. As per the review of the film Raja Rani (1973 film) made in 2014 by the Hindu newspaper, the film did well at the box office and taking into consideration, the inflation as of 2014, the film would have grossed more than 100 crores. She starred in Gulzar's 1975 film, Mausam and won the National Film Award for Best Actress. She also played a supporting role in Mira Nair's 1991 film Mississippi Masala. She was the highest paid Bollywood actress from 1970 to 1976 along with Mumtaz. She starred opposite Dharmendra in Devar (1966), Anupama (1966), Mere Hamdam Mere Dost (1968), Satyakam (1969), Yakeen (1969), Chupke Chupke (1975) and Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka (1975); Amitabh Bachchan in Faraar (1975); Sanjeev Kumar in Mausam (1975), and Besharam (1978); and Naseeruddin Shah in the Bengali film Mangaldeep (1991).
In 2017, She walked as a showstopper for Designer Rohini Gugnani at India Runway Week
She married Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, the Nawab of Pataudi and former captain of the Indian cricket team, in a Nikah ceremony held on 27 December 1969. She converted to Islam and took on the name Ayesha Sultana. They had three children: Saif Ali Khan (b. 1970), a Bollywood actor, Saba Ali Khan (b. 1976), a jewellery designer, and Soha Ali Khan (b. 1978), a Bollywood actress and TV personality. Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi died, at age 70, on 22 September 2011. In November 2012 she wrote to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) asking for the upcoming series between India and England to be recognised as the Pataudi Trophy which was commissioned by the MCC in 2007. The Indian board responded saying that England's Test series in India are contested for the Anthony de Mello Trophy, in honour of the cricket administrator and co-founder of the BCCI.Civilian honors2013 – Padma BhushanNational Film Awards (India)1975 – National Film Award for Best Actress — Mausam2003 – National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress — Abar AranyeFilmfare Awards1970 – Filmfare Award for Best Actress — Aradhana1998 – Filmfare Lifetime Achievement AwardAnandalok Awards2010 - Lifetime Achievement AwardScreen Awards2002 - Lifetime Achievement Award2014 - Sanskriti Kalashree Award, Lifetime Achievement