The film is set in 1957, the present day at the time of shooting. When construction of an irrigation canal to the village is completed, Radha (Nargis), considered to be the "mother" of the village, is asked to inaugurate the canal. She remembers her past, when she was newly married. The wedding between Radha and Shamu (Raaj Kumar) is paid for by Radha's mother-in-law, who borrows the money from the moneylender Sukhilala (Kanhaiyalal). The conditions of the loan are disputed, but the village elders decide in favour of the moneylender, after which Shamu and Radha are forced to pay three quarters of their crop as interest on the loan of ₹500 (valued at about US$105 in 1957).[a][b] While Shamu works to bring more of their rocky land into use, his arms are crushed by a boulder. Ashamed of his helplessness (being without arms), and humiliated by Sukhilala for living on the earnings of his wife, Shamu decides that he is of no use to his family and permanently leaves Radha and their three sons, walking to his own probable death by starvation. Soon after, Radha's youngest son and her mother-in-law die. A severe storm and the resulting flood destroys houses in the village and ruins the harvest. Sukhilala offers to save Radha and her sons if she trades her body to him for food. Radha vehemently refused his offer, but had to also lose her infant (her fourth son) to the atrocities of the storm. Although the villagers begin initially to evacuate the village, they decide to stay and rebuild it, persuaded by Radha. Several years later, Radha's two surviving children, Birju (Sunil Dutt) and Ramu (Rajendra Kumar), are young men. Birju, embittered since childhood by the demands of Sukhilala, takes out his frustrations by pestering the village girls, especially Sukhilala's daughter, Rupa. Ramu, by contrast, has a calmer temperament and is married soon after. Birju's anger finally becomes dangerous and, after being provoked, he attacks Sukhilala and his daughter and steals Radha's kangan (marriage bracelets) that were pawned with Sukhilala. He is chased out of the village and becomes a bandit. Radha promises Sukhilala that she will not let Birju cause harm to Sukhilala's family. On Rupa's wedding day, Birju returns with his gang of bandits to exact his revenge. He kills Sukhilala and kidnaps Rupa. When he tries to flee the village on his horse, Radha, his mother, shoots him. He dies in her arms. The film returns to 1957; Radha opens the gate of the canal and its reddish water flows into the fields.