Amala was born on 26 October 1991 in Ernakulam, Kerala to Christian Malayali parents, Paul Varghese and Annice Paul. After completing her Plus Two examinations at Nirmala Higher Secondary School, Aluva she took a sabbatical to begin a career in films, but has since joined St. Teresa's College in Kochi, to pursue a BA degree in English and is currently in her third year. Her father had been strictly against Amala pursuing a acting career, but was forced to accept her decision with her older brother, Abijith, strongly backing her ambition. Amala had changed her on-screen name to Anakha, on director Samy's insistence, who cited that another actress, Amala had already made her name popular. However, after the failure of Sindhu Samaveli, she reverted to her birth name since she felt that the replacement had brought her bad luck.
Amala Paul, after finishing her Plus Two education, took a year out before planning to pursue engineering for further education. At the time, her modelling portfolio was spotted by noted Malayalam director Lal Jose who offered her a supporting role in his remake, Neelathamara (2009). Despite emerging a success, the film failed to attract any further offers, as she had anticipated. She pursued roles in Tamil films and went on to sign the low-budget comedy film Vikadakavi which was delayed and ultimately became her sixth release, while also signing on to play the lead role in another small budget film Veerasekaran (2010). The film, which became her maiden Tamil release, was panned by critics and went completely unnoticed, while Amala's role was being labelled as 'minimal', and she later cited that she regretted doing the film and many of her scenes were edited out.
Amala Paul then went on to work in Samy's controversial Sindhu Samaveli (2010), portraying the role of Sundari, who has an illicit relationship with her father-in-law. The director of the film had previously drawn criticism for his depictions of illicit romances as well as for assaulting his previous lead actress in a film, but Amala played down the issue citing that she had no problem with the director. She was approached after the major portions of her next release, Mynaa were ready and signed on before listening to the entirety of the story, claiming that she was shocked but not upset with the controversial scenes which she heard later. Upon release, the film met with contrasting reviews, whilst some critics refused to give the film a rating, declaring their disgust at the film's plot. Amala's performance won her critical acclaim. However her success was marred with extreme reactions from the public, with Amala claiming she received death threats from anonymous callers and was publicly scolded by women at a cinema hall in Chennai. Amala's next release, the romantic drama film Mynaa (2010) by Prabhu Solomon, made her a recognised actress in the industry. The film had garnered much anticipation prior to release, with noted distributors Udhayanidhi Stalin and Kalpathi S. Aghoram purchasing the rights of the film after being impressed with it. Amala played the village belle Mynaa, attaining unanimous praise from critics for her portrayal; a critic labelled her work as "outstanding" and that she put in a "riveting performance", while other reviews claimed she had "immense talent" and scores in "every instance" in the title role. The film, which also saw her gain recognition from noted actors Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth, subsequently became a large commercial success at the box-office. Amala Paul gained recognition from several award committees and notably secured the Vijay Award for Best Debut Actress, while also gaining nominations in the Best Actress category at the Filmfare Awards and the Vijay Awards.
Following the success of Mynaa, Amala became touted as the "new star of 2011" as she subsequently signed on to several prominent projects. Her first release of 2011 was in a supporting role in the Malayalam drama film, Ithu Nammude Katha, a remake of the successful Tamil film Naadodigal and the second was meant to be her launch in Tamil films, the coming-to-age tale of five friends Vikadakavi with the film opening to limited screens. Both films opened to limited screens due to the moderate budget of the projects, with her performance in the latter being described as "full of potential". She went on to sign three big budget films with established production houses, with the drama Deiva Thirumagal directed by Vijay, featuring her opposite Vikram and alongside Anushka, becoming her next release. Her portrayal of school correspondent Shwetha Rajendran won critical acclaim with a reviewer citing that her "expressive eyes help her leave a mark in a small but important role" whilst another critic claimed she "acquits herself well". She will then appear in the action film Vettai alongside leading actors Arya and Madhavan under Linguswamy's direction and then in Ram Gopal Varma's Telugu film, Bejawada Rowdilu, alongside Naga Chaitanya. Moreover, she has also signed the romantic musical Muppozhudhum Un Karpanaigal opposite Adharvaa, in which she plays a modern girl based in Bangalore