Subhash Ghai was born in Nagpur in a Punjabi family. His father was a dentist who practised in Delhi. Subhash did his higher secondary in Delhi and thereafter graduated in Commerce from Rohtak, Haryana. In 1963, he moved to Pune, Maharashtra, to join the Film and Television Institute of India. In 1970, he married a girl from Pune named Rehana alias Mukta. Today, he lives in Mumbai with his wife, Mukta Ghai and daughters, Meghna Ghai Puri and Muskaan Ghai. Meghna Ghai Puri is the President of Whistling Woods International, film and media institution in Mumbai set up by Subhash Ghai in 2006.
Ghai started his career in Hindi cinema as an actor with small roles in films including Taqdeer (1967) and Aradhana (1971). He was the male lead in the 1970s Umang, and Gumraah (1976). His directorial debut was the film Kalicharan (1976) which he obtained through a recommendation by Shatrughan Sinha. As of 2016[update], he has written and directed a total of 16 movies.
He then took a break from directing and turned producer with films including Aitraaz (2004), Iqbal (2005), 36 China Town (2006) and Apna Sapna Money Money (2006). In 2006, he set up his own film institute Whistling Woods International in Mumbai. The institute trains students in filmmaking: production, direction, cinematography, acting, animation. Ghai has done brief cameos in his directorial ventures.
After a three-year hiatus from directing, he returned in 2008 with Black and White released on 7 March 2008 and, later Yuvvraaj released in November 2008 which didn't perform well at the box office.A. R. Rahman stated in an interview that Ghai had asked him to use the words "Jai Ho" in a song.