Maithili Rao is an ex-English lecturer who drifted into film criticism through happenstance. She has written extensively for Indian and international publications. Currently a columnist for Man's World, she has written regularly for The Hindu, Frontline, Cinema In India, Film Comment, International Film Guide, BFI website, South Asian Cinema, Gentlemen, Eve's Weekly (a long-running monthly column, 'Images of Women'), The Sunday Observer and Independent (foreign film critic for the last two). She served as member of the jury for National Awards and critics' jury at international film festivals (Sochi, MIFF-Mumbai, International children's film festival-Hyderabad, Bengaluru International film festival).
She also served as nominations council member of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Australia. She has contributed chapters to books on Indian cinema: 'Rebels without a Cause' for the Encyclopaedia Britannica India volume on Hindi cinema; 'Heart of the Hindi Film' for Bollywood, Dakini Publications, London; 'To Be a Woman' for Frames of Mind, Indian Council for Cultural Relations; 'Images of Women' for Rasa, Vol. II, edited by Chidananda Das Gupta; Amitabh Bachchan for Icons, edited by Anil Dharker, Roli; 'Idealized Women and a Realist's Eye' for Bimal Roy: The Man Who Spoke in Pictures, edited by Rinki Bhattacharya, essays for Madhumati and Janani by Rinki Bhattacharya.
She lives in Bombay with a forbearing husband who is not interested in films but calmly survives her deadlines and film mania. An allied activity has been subtitling films from Hindi, Telugu and Kannada into English.