Parthiban was born in 1957 near Thoothugudi. His father was Ratnavelu. After passing his HSC Exam in 1974, Parthiban went to Madras to become an Actor. Instead he was told that he did not look like actor material and was encouraged to make films. This led to him pursuing a D.F.E (Diploma in Film Editing) from the Film and Technology Institute in Tambaram (Not to be confused with the FTI in Pune). His father was a clerk in the post and Telegraph department, but his family could never make both ends meet. He started as a stage artiste who used to perform on stages in Chengalpattu and Villupuram. It was getting him nowhere and so he came back to Chennai. There, he made the usual round of going to the producers offices and was finally able to become the assistant of K. Bhagyaraj. At that time, he used to make around Rs 6000 a month by dubbing for various artistes. He made his first film appearance in Raanuva Veeran. Then, he played the role of a postman in his mentor's Dhavani Kanavugal.
He is known for having directed critically acclaimed films like Pudhiya Paadhai and Housefull and for his performances in films like Bharathi Kannamma, Vetri Kodi Kattu, Azhagi, Melvilasom and Aayirathil Oruvan.In early 1990, he directed and acted in Pondatti Thevai which failed at the box-office.He then directed and acted in 1994 in Sarigamapadani co-starring with Roja and Sangita and the next year in Pullaikuttikkaaran co-starring with Sangita and Urvashi.Apart from direction and acting, he produces films. He wrote a book named "Kirukkkalgal" – Thamizh Kavithai Thoguppu which was released by M. Karunanidhi. He runs a charitable trust named 'R.Parthiepan Manithaneya Mandram'.