In 2003, was honored by the Government of India with the Padma Shri Award, which recognizes distinguished service to the nation.
Started acting when she was only ten years old. She danced her way into cinema, starring first as a child artiste in Ore Iravu (1951), and then continued her performance in films portraying a wide variety of roles such as heroine, character artiste, comedian, vamp, mother and grandmother.
Born in Nagarcoil to Madhavan Nair and Sathyabhama, she left them early in life to study dance with her aunt Saraswathi in Chennai, alongside her first cousins the famous Travancore sisters - Lalitha, Padmini, Ragini.
With a career lasting over 50 years, she has acted with a generation of movie stars, and in more than 2000 films in Malayalam, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Oriya and Bengali. She is listed in the Guiness Book of Records for this feat.
Has been awarded the Kerala State Awards for Best Supporting Actress for: Arappatta Kettiya Graamathil (1986), Koodevide? (1983), Karyam Nissaram (1983), 1979, and Chattakkari (1974).
Her first cousin once removed is fellow dancer/actress Shobana.