Kalpana was born to theater artists Chavara V.P.Nair and Vijayalakshmi. Actresses Kalaranjini and Urvashi are her sisters.Kalpana began her career as a child artist in the film Vidarunna Mottukal. Her Tamil debut was through the 1985 released successful film Chinna Veedu opposite K. Bhagyaraj. After making her debut as a mainstream actor in the 1980 film Pokkuveyil directed by G. Aravindan, she went on to star in several critically acclaimed films and her portrayals as a comedian were appreciated by critics. She performed in a music album with Usha Uthup. She had sung a song in the movie Kudumbakodathi along with K.S. Chithra in which she appeared as a Telugu speaking character. She married Malayalam film director Anil Kumar in 1998 and got divorced in 2012. They have one daughter, Sreemayi Anil. She went to Hyderabad for the shooting of Oopiri movie. On 25 January 2016, she died of heart attack. Then her body was flown to her native place on 26th of January 2016. Asianet Film Awards for Best Supporting Actress for the film Charlie was posthumously awarded. She also acted acted in Television serials, advertisements and hosted several talk shows. She has acted in South Indian films, primarily Malayalam and Tamil films. Kalpana has acted in over 300 films in various South Indian languages.