Preity Zinta was born on 31 January 1975, in Shimla. Preity belongs to a Hindu Rajput family of Rohru in Shimla district. Her father, Durganand Zinta, was an officer in the Indian Army. He died when Preity was barely thirteen in a car accident,in which her mother, Nilprabha, was also severely injured and remained bedridden for two years. According to Preity, her father's early death was one of her most terrible experiences of her life, as it forced her to grow up. Preity, a tomboy in the early stages of her life, was influenced primarily by her father. Since she belonged to an army household, she grew up with values such as discipline and punctuality. She studied at the Convent of Jesus and Mary boarding school in Shimla. As a student, she developed a love for literature, particularly William Shakespeare and poetry, and even tried a hand at it herself. According to Preity, whilst she liked studies and received good grades in school, she enjoyed spending time outside, and was interested in sports, especially basketball. At the age of 18, Preity enrolled at St Bede's College in Shimla. She initially majored in English honours, but later pursued an advanced programme in psychology. She earned a degree in criminal psychology, after which she took up modelling. Preity's first commercial for Perk chocolates was a result of a chance meeting with a commercial director at a friend's birthday party in 1996. The director persuaded her to attend the audition for the commercial, and she was selected. Later, she appeared in other commercials, such as that of Liril and Scooty Pep.
In 1997, Preity met film-maker Shekhar Kapur when she accompanied a friend to an audition and was asked to audition herself. Kapur was quite impressed and insisted that she become an actress. She was originally scheduled to make her screen debut in Kapur's Tara Rum Pum opposite Hrithik Roshan, but the film was shelved. Kapur later recommended her to Mani Ratnam for his film Dil Se (1998) in which Preity appeared for the first time on the tinsel screen. She starred opposite Shah Rukh Khan in the film. Though the film didn’t do well, Preity was quite appreciated for the bubbly role she played. Preity’s next release was Abbas-Mustan’s Soldier (1998), starring opposite Bobby Deol, which was a hit at the box-office. She next acted in two Telugu films, Premante Idera (1998) opposite Venkatesh, and Raja Kumarudu (1999) opposite Mahesh Babu. Sangharsh (1999) won Preity huge critical acclaim, inspite of the film failing to do well at the box-office. Kya Kehna (2000), the film based on the themes of single parenthood and teenage pregnancy, was a surprise hit. She was widely appreciated by the audience and the critics. Her next two releases Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega (2000) and Mission Kashmir (2000) gained mediocre success. The latter was the third highest grossing film of the year. Preity, by then, became a popular figure in the industry, and her hold was just getting stronger each day. Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (2001), co-starring Salman Khan and Rani Mukerji, did average business. The film was one of the first Bollywood movies to handle the issue of surrogate childbirth. Preity won many accolades for her performance in the film. The same year Dil Chahta Hai (2001) released, in which she starred opposite Aamir Khan. The film was widely appreciated and is one among the favourites of youngsters even today. Unfortunately, her next film Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke (2001) flopped. In 2002, Preity gave a strong performance in Dil Hai Tumhara. Her performance was widely appreciated, though the film failed to do well. The Hero: Love Story Of A Spy (2003) was the most expensive Bollywood film of the year, but failed to recover its production costs at the box office. Nevertheless, Preity’s performance again was critically acclaimed. Her next film Armaan (2003), co-starring Anil Kapoor, flopped. Koi... Mil Gaya (2003) was a major financial and critical success. It was the biggest hit of the year as well as Preity's highest grossing movie till date. Kal Ho Na Ho (2003) was well received by critics, and became India's second biggest hit of the year. Lakshya (2004) was a critical success, though Preity's performance received mixed reviews. Veer-Zaara (2004) was the top grossing Bollywood film of that year. The film starred Preity opposite Shah Rukh Khan. It was a critical success as well. The same year, Preity had another release Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha (2004), opposite Salman Khan, which flopped. In 2005, Preity’s performance in Salaam Namaste, alongside Saif Ali Khan, was appreciated a lot, especially by the youth. Some critics called it her most accomplished performance till date. Preity also played a small role in Krrish (2006) which was a huge blockbuster. Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006), inspite of being a controversial film, gained success. Preity’s performance was again widely appreciated. The film is the biggest hit ever in the overseas market. Preity was next seen in Shirish Kunder's romantic musical Jaan-E-Mann: Let’s Fall In Love… Again (2006). The movie unfortunately flopped, inspite of some brilliant performances from the lead cast. Shaad Ali's comedy Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007) was a critical and commercial failure. The movie also starred Abhishek Bachchan, Bobby Deol and Lara Dutta. She then was seen in her first English film, Rituparno Ghosh's The Last Lear (2007) as a struggling theatre actress, opposite Amitabh Bachchan. The film premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival and was well appreciated. Preity’s forthcoming films include Har Pall (2008), Heroes (2008) and Heaven On Earth (2008).
Preity has two brothers, Deepankar and Manish, a year older and a year younger, respectively. Deepankar is a commissioned officer in the Indian Army, while Manish is settled in Los Angeles. Preity was initially a Model and TV anchor. Her characteristic dimple has been cited by the media as her trademark. She is a major fan of the hit TV series The Simpsons. She shot to fame as the refreshing, cool, wet model in the Liril ad. She also modelled for Perk and her dimpled smile won a million hearts. Critics began to take notice of her after her performance in Kya Kehna. Recently, she bought a team in IPL along with her current beau Ness Wadia.