Manjula was born in a Honenahalli, a village in Tumkur district on 5 April 1951 to Shivanna and Deveramma. She belonged to a prominent lingayat family, her father Shivanna was a police sub inspector. She was married to film director Amritham who had directed her in films like Hudugaatada Hudugi, the couple have one son Abhisekh and one adopted daughter Abhinaya. Abhisekh was married in 2009 to Sushma Srinivas.
Manjula started her acting career in 1965 with a drama troupe Prabhat Kalavidaru. She then entered the Kannada film industry in a small role through the film Mane Katti Nodu in 1966, The film was directed by Sri Sadguru. She made her debut as a lead actress in the film Yaara Saakshi, the film released in 1972 and it was directed by veteran director M. R. Vittal. She paired up with most prominent Kannada actors like Rajkumar, Vishnuvardhan, Srinath and Shankar Nag, but most successful is with Srinath, they acted together in about 35 films. She has starred in over one hundred films during her film career, where she played variety of roles and most of her films became successful. Some of her notable films include Sampathige Savaal, Durgi, Yeradu Kanasu, Besuge and Seetha Ramu.