Arya was born on 11 December 1980 in Trikarpur, India into a Malayali family. He has a younger brother, named Sathya aka Shahid, and Razi, who is studying. He graduated with an engineering degree from Crescent Engineering College, based at Vandalur, Chennai. He did his schooling in SBOA Matriculation and Higher Secondary School, Chennai.
While working as a Assistant Software Engineer, Arya was approached by late cinematographer Jeeva to audition for his Ullam Ketkumae in 2003. The pair had lived in the same neighbourhood and had attended the same local mosque. Arya immediately signed on for the project and was given the stage name by Jeeva. The film had also marked the debuts of actresses Asin and Pooja but the film was delayed and only released after their other ventures. Hence, Arya's first appearance was as Kutty, in Vishnuvardhan's Arinthum Ariyamalum, with the film going on to become a super hit. The film featured Arya as the adopted rogue son of a gangster, and his portrayal won him acclaim leading to a Filmfare Award for Best Male Debut for 2005. Critics reported that Arya in a supporting role "walks away with all the applause" and "has everything in him to make the big league". In an interview several years later, Arya also cited that it was because of the song "Thee Pidika" that people took notice of him, creditting and expressing gratitude to its composer Yuvan Shankar Raja. His next release, the delayed Ullam Ketkumae, portraying Arya as a college cricketer, also carried good reviews and was a successful venture at the box office. His third release in 2005, was the campus romance story, Oru Kalluriyin Kathai opposite Sonia Agarwal, took a strong opening but failed to find commercial acceptance. However after also gaining favourable reviews for his performance, Arya was labelled as the new "pin-up" of Tamil cinema at the time and attracted offers for films. His next, Igor's thriller Kalabha Kadhalan, where he played an engineer pursued romantically by an aggressive sister-in-law, won favourable reviews from critics but failed commercially. Arya collaborated with Vishnuvardhan again in the successful gangster flick, Pattiyal, where Bharath also played another leading role. The film, was shot across the slums of Chennai and told the story of two ruthless underworld hitmen, with Pooja and Padmapriya also playing major roles. Upon release, the film gained positive reports and the lead pair's performances were praised with a critic claiming that scenes between Arya and Bharath were "touching" while Arya's use of facial expressions and body language "fits exactly for the kind of role he plays". The film consequently became a big box office success and placed Arya as a leading actor in Tamil cinema. Arya subsequently appeared in the action film Vattaram as Burma, but the film's release coincided with bigger budgeted releases and the film was crowded out from box office success, despite gaining favourable reviews. In 2007, Arya played a guest appearance in Cheran's Maya Kannadi as himself before his long-delayed Oram Po, previously known as Auto, released in late 2007. Prior to release the film gained cult status for its innovative trailer, with Arya playing a Chennai-based auto driver who competes in races at nights, while Pooja was his pair again. The film directed by duo Pushkar-Gayathri opened to very positive reviews, with most critics claiming that the film was a "riot" and "entertaining", praising characterisations. Critics from the Hindu labelled Arya as "terrific as the cocky yet lovable Chandru" saying that his "good physique should cement his ‘heartthrob’ status".
Arya's next release was in 2009, with Bala's long delayed drama film on Aghoris, Naan Kadavul. The film was initially launched with Ajith Kumar in early 2005, but after he dropped out Arya signed on in mid 2006. The three previous films made by Bala were known notoriously for their dark themes, their rogue leads and their long delays in production but also that his two previous protagonists Vikram and Suriya had risen from obscurity to stardom after featuring in his films. As per, the film took three years to complete with Arya growing a full length beard for the production thus making him unable to sign other projects, while he often cited the intense pressure and the hardships of the shoot. Arya appeared as an Aghori in the film situated in Kasi but is forced to relocate to Tamil Nadu, where he duly encounters an underworld which gains collections through the torture of the handicapped, with Pooja, yet again playing a significant role. The film opened to positive reviews with unanimous praise on Arya's portrayal of Rudran, with a critic from Sify citing "Arya pumps life and blood and gets under the skin of Rudran, making his animal like character so convincing" while adding that "he has delivered a performance that is hard to forget even days after you've watched the film". Though he was highly expected to win several awards for the portrayal, he failed but garnered two nominations from notable award committees. After a guest role in Rajesh's Siva Manasula Sakthi, he then collaborated with Vishnuvardhan for the third time in his romantic-thriller, Sarvam, an anthology film also featuring Trisha Krishnan, J. D. Chakravarthy, Rohan Shiva and Indrajith. Arya played a carefree young architect who falls in love and pursues Trisha, before another thread in the film interlocks with his portions and changes his situation. The film however only went to gain average review from critics, and eventually became a surprise failure at the box office.
2010 became a career-defining year for Arya, with the widespread success of his films establishing him as a leading actor in South Indian films. His first release was his debut in Telugu films, where he played the antagonist in Varudu co-starring Allu Arjun. Despite opening to positive reviews, the film failed to match expectations at the box office, although Arya's performance was praised by critics, claiming that "powerful, menacing, quiet yet indomitably spirited" in his role while another reviewer claimed he outshone Allu Arjun. His next venture was the period film Madrasapattinam depicting a love story from the 1940s, co-starring newcomer Amy Jackson and directed by A. L. Vijay. The big budget film progressed with its schedules with little publicity for a year, with Arya portraying the role of Ilamparithi, a dhobi situated in a community of Washermanpet who falls in love with the daughter of a governor. The film gained mostly positive reviews from critics and became successful at the box office, although most reviewers agreed his performance was outshone by Jackson's. While a critic cited that Arya "looks stone-faced no matter what the situation", another cited the performance was "awe-inspiring". He then appeared in Rajesh's comedy film Boss Engira Bhaskaran, which Arya's production house, Show The People, also co-produced. The film portrayed Arya as a spoiled, carefree Kumbakonam youth and his comic timing in the film alongside Nayantara and Santhanam received positive responses from critics. Furthermore the film went on to become his first blockbuster, running for over hundred days in multiplexes. His final release in 2010 was in a dual role in the romantic travelogue film, Chikku Bukku by Manikandan, featuring Shriya Saran and Preetika. The film, shot extensively in London and Karaikudi, received a mixed response and fared averagely at the box office, with Arya's performance being described by critics as from "watchable and dependable" to "morose and silent".
Arya's first release in 2011 was an extended cameo appearance in Santhosh Sivan's Malayalam historical-fantasy film Urumi, where he played two characters.
Arya has also ventured into film production in order to promote new talents and help funding small budget films. In 2010, he established the banner "The Show People" and first produced his Boss Engira Bhaskaran, following which he produced newcomer Sukanth's Padithurai, which is currently in post-production stage.