Dutta was born and raised in Ludhiana, Punjab, and debuted in Hindi cinema in 1994 with the film Ishq Mein Jeena Ishq Mein Marna, which she followed up with a lead role in the 1995 drama Veergati and a string of supporting roles. She then garnered attention for playing the lead role of Zainab, a Muslim wife separated from her Sikh husband, in the 1999 Punjabi film Shaheed-e-Mohabbat Boota Singh, set against the backdrop of the 1947 Partition of India. The movie was a surprise hit, and Dutta subsequently continued to act in supporting roles. In 2004, Dutta garnered widespread critical acclaim for her role as Shabbo in the romantic drama Veer-Zaara and earned best supporting actress nominations at several awards ceremonies, including Filmfare. She subsequently received recognition for her role in the 2008 comedy film Welcome to Sajjanpur, and received the IIFA Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Jalebi in the 2009 drama film Delhi-6.