Ram is a young law student completing his final year of study. He is told by the principal that he needs to pay the registration fees for the bar exam soon to retain his eligibility for that year. Ram is waiting for a money order from his mother in the village. Rehman, his best friend, is concerned about his nonchalant attitude regarding all this and implores him to quickly settle his accounts. He also has not paid his room’s rent in months and hence his landlady wants to seal the room. When morning comes, dire news comes from his mother. She has been unable to gather the money for his fees. A desperate Ram pawns his father’s watch to Dhannesa, a moneylender. But the miserly moneylender gives him only a fraction of the money he needs. When he is returning he sees two children playing on a roof and one of them falls. He carries the child to their home and calls a doctor. But he learns that the family is too poor to afford the doctor. Ram selflessly donates the meagre sum he had for the boy’s treatment. The boy lives with his mother and sister Sohni. The grateful Sohni asks for Ram’s address so that they may be able to repay him someday. Rehman has witnessed his friend’s kindly act, but he berates Ram for sacrificing himself for them. Ram is sealed off from his apartment and has nowhere to go. He tries to sleep on the pavement in front of Taj Mahal hotel but is driven away by a security guard. Ram wanders around the city in the night, witnessing the grim poverty gripping the streets.
While out, he runs into a drunkard called Gopal who takes him into a liquor den. Ram realises that the owner of the liquor den Harbanslal is exploiting Gopal by keeping him supplied with alcohol while his debt keeps on rising. When Sohni arrives to take Gopal home, Ram realises he is her father. Harbanslal’s lust for Sohni is also evident during this interaction. While they are taking Gopal back to his home, Rehman runs into them. He informs Ram that his fees have been paid and he should present himself in college soon. Ram and Sohni like each other, but their blossoming romance is always interrupted by other realities. Ram is invited to stay for a meal by Sohni’s mother. After the meal Ram tells her brother a story. Through the story he metaphorically confesses his feelings to Sohni. Harbanslal arrives to rudely shatter this delicate moment.
Sohni earns a living by stitching clothes for people. One of her clients, a rich man, tries to molest her one day. She is saved by Ram and escorted back home. Harbasnlal witnesses this and demands that Sohni be married to him in lieu of all the money Gopal owes him. When Sohni’s mother refuses he tries to have Gopal arrested for non-repayment of debt. Sohni’s mother remains firm in her refusal to allow him to marry her daughter. But Sohni is unable to bear the harassment anymore and agrees. Ram is shocked to learn of this but understands that it is her circumstances that drove her to agree to this. Desperate for a way out, he visits the moneylender Dhannesa. He witnesses an altercation between Dhannesa and another man who threatens to kill him if a gold chain is not returned to him. Dhannesa’s key falls out during this and is pocketed by Ram. That night Ram sneaks into Dhannesa’s office to break into his safe. But when Dhannesa returns unexpectedly a tussle breaks out between them. Ram accidentally kills Dhannesa during this struggle.
Fortune deals a bittersweet hand to Sohni and Ram. Gopal dies in an accident on the day of her wedding. Sohni’s wedding with Harbanslal is called off with a little help from Rehman. Ram though, is daily sinking into a deep emotional turmoil as an aftermath of his crime. One day he is summoned to the police station in regards to another incident, but his anxiety makes him faint. A police inspector starts suspecting him for the murder of Dhannesa. His guilt alienates him from everyone, even Sohni. Another man is arrested for Dhannesa’s murder when the police are unable to find any evidence against Ram. Rehman tries to get him and Sohni married for the sake of his mental stability. In the temple Ram overhears the arrested man’s wife praying for her husband and is unable to bear it any more. He confesses his crime to the police and is arrested.
During the trial Ram is initially given the death sentence. He accepts his punishment yet cannot but reflect on the sad state of affairs when exploiters like Dhannesa and Harbanslal go unpunished, while people like him are sentenced for the crime of being poor. In light of his speech his sentence is reduced to three years. A relieved Sohni tells him that she will wait for him.