A criminal named Ranjit is let off by the police because of lack of proof against him. When he returns home to his family he realises his daughter has passed away after consuming the same adulterated medicine that he had been manufacturing. Wracked with remorse, he decides to tell his boss Seth Patil that he wishes to quit. Patil fears that Ranjit will testify against him to the police. On a Diwali night he has his right hand man Teja murder Ranjit and his wife. Ranjit’s son Vijay hides in the closet and survives. Teja wore a bracelet with a white horse on it. The young Vijay represses the memory of the killing but has recurring nightmares of a man on a white horse.
Vijay is adopted by a police officer and grows up to follow in his footsteps. He becomes a strongly principled officer, often too harsh in his methods. He stops a man harassing a knife-sharpener named Mala. He next tussles with Sher Khan who has been running illegal gambling rackets. But Sher Khan turns out to be a man of honour and agrees to close down his operations once he meets Vijay. Vijay starts receiving mysterious phone calls, tipping him off about transport routes of trucks carrying illegal goods. When he gives chase to one of them the driver runs over a group of children in his haste to get away. Mala is the sole witness to the act. Although she is offered money to keep silent, she testifies to the police. Consequently she is attacked one night. Managing to give her attackers the slip she seeks shelter with Vijay.
Teja, who has supplanted Patil as the mob boss, is increasingly disturbed by Vijay’s attacks on his operations. He has him framed on charges of corruption. Vijay is convicted in court and stripped of his police post. Sher Khan and Mala manage to gather funds to bail him out. A despondent Vijay makes a promise to Teja that he will cease attacking him in order to protect his loved ones. At this juncture, the mysterious caller asks to meet him. Upon meeting him, Vijay learns that he is a grieving father named Da Silva whose sons were killed by the poisonous moonshine sold by Teja. He asks Vijay to help him in his quest for retribution. Vijay refuses due to the promise he had made. But he can’t live with this decision and lashes out at Mala. Mala and Sher Khan realise that Vijay can never find peace without pursuing Teja to the end. Mala frees him from his promise and asks him to bring justice to Teja.
With the help of Sher Khan and Da Silva, Vijay cripples Teja’s operations. Vijay and Teja have their final confrontation in Teja’s mansion. Vijay notices Teja’s bracelet and remembers the death of his parents. An enraged Vijay beats up Teja and is on the verge of killing him when the police stop him. Teja attempts to steal a gun and shoot Vijay, but the quick-footed Vijay shoots him instead. With his nemesis dead, Vijay informs De Silva of the fulfilment of his struggle.
The film marks the beginning of an important chapter in the history of Indian cinema. Vijay is the first proper iteration of the ‘angry young man’ character that would come to dominate Indian screens in the 70’s. The film’s success announced the arrival of Amitabh Bachchan as a leading star and was an important milestone in the careers of scriptwriters Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar. It would also spark off a series of hits delivered by the Prakash Mehra - Amitabh Bachchan partnership.