Leela Naidu was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. Her father, Dr Pattipati Ramaiah Naidu, a well known nuclear physicist , hailed from Madanapalle, Chittoor Dist., Andhra Pradesh, who had worked under the supervision of Nobel Laureate Marie Curie for his doctoral thesis in Paris. Her mother, journalist and Indologist, Dr. Marthe Mange Naidu, was of Swiss-French origin, from Pont d'Avignon, South-France .Sarojini Naidu, a senior Congress leader and freedom fighter was her aunt.
Leela Naidu was crowned Femina Miss India in 1954, and the same year was featured in Vogue magazine's list of the world's ten most beautiful women..In 1956 at the age of 17 she married to Tikki Oberoi of Oberoi Group of Hotels with whom she had twin daughters.The brief marriage ended in divorce, and Oberoi won custody of the girls.She was shattered and lived alone in Bombay.
Raj Kapoor was the first film maker to have noticed her, and wanted to sign her for a four movie contract, sometime in the late 1950s. He even got a photo shoot done. Leela Naidu turned down the offer and went to Oxford.
In 1960 she was selected by Hrishikesh Mukharjee as the lead actress against Balraj Sahini for his film ANURADHA..Though the film was commercially not a success but the film went on to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film and was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 11th Berlin International Film Festival in 1961.
Her next film was Nitin Bose's Ummeed (1962), alongside Ashok Kumar and Joy Mukherjee this film was also not successful.Her next film was Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke (1963), directed by RK Nayyar. The movie, which co-starred Sunil Dutt and Rehman, was based on the real life case K. M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra.Despite its topical nature and controversial theme, the movie flopped; however, some of its songs, notably Ye Khaamoshiyaan, Ye Tanahaaiyaan, became quite popular.
In 1963, Naidu played the lead role of a rebellious young bride in the first Merchant Ivory film, The Householder, directed by James Ivory.After watching her performance in the The Householder, Satyajit Ray who had actually assisted and guided Merchant-Ivory in their first film venture, planned an English film, The Journey, with Marlon Brando, Shashi Kapoor and Naidu, but sadly the film was never made. She was considered for the role of Rosie in Vijay Anand's Guide (1965), but the role required a trained dancer, and so Naidu lost out to Waheeda Rehman.
Later, Naidu made a guest appearance in the Merchant-Ivory film, The Guru (1969)
She acted in a few films here and there. Married Dom Moraes in 1969, and given Moraes' terrible communication skills, acted as his unpaid secretary, when he wrote commissioned articles and books. She edited the Society magazine, after Shobha De.Leela Naidu and Dom Moraes lived in Hong Kong,New York,New Delhi and Mumbai for 25 years but their marriage didn't last further.After the relationship ended she led a somewhat reclusive life in Colaba Mumbai.
She returned to cinema in 1985 to play a Goan matriarch in Shyam Benegal's period film,Trikaal. Her appearance in Electric Moon (1992), directed by Pradip Krishen, turned out to be her last cinematic role.
Leela Naidu died in Mumbai on 28 July 2009, due to lung failure after a prolonged bout of influenza, at the age of 69