After the retirement of his dad (Krishan Dhawan), the responsibility is on Bharat (Manoj Kumar) to look after his Delhi-based family. He has two younger college-going brothers, Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Deepak (Dheeraj Kumar) and a sister of marriage age, Champa (Meena T.). Although Bharat himself is a college graduate, the only work he can find is as a low-paid singer, much to the frustration of his girlfriend, Sheetal (Zeenat Aman). Meanwhile, Vijay has turned to crime as a last option to provide for the family, but after an argument with Bharat, he leaves home to join the army.
Sheetal starts working as a secretary for rich businessman Mohan Babu (Shashi Kapoor) and Mohan becomes attracted to her. She too becomes attracted to Mohan Babu but is more interested in his wealth and luxury. She loves Bharat but cannot contemplate a life in poverty. Bharat finally finds a job as a builder but starts to realise that Sheetal is slowly drifting away from his life. Afterwards he loses his job as a builder after the government takes over the building site currently being constructed and his financial problems increase further. When Sheetal?s boss, Mohan Babu, proposes marriage, she accepts and soon both are engaged leaving Bharat heartbroken. After losing his love, Bharat also loses his father, devastating him and leaving him unable to deal with his life. Frustrated, Bharat burns his diploma on his father?s funeral pyre.
Meanwhile, his sister Champa has found a suitor, but Bharat has no money to pay for the wedding and it cannot go ahead. Still depressed at the state of his life, Bharat soon finds salvation by helping a poor girl, Tulsi (Moushumi Chatterjee), who also lives in poverty but gets by. He also makes friends with Sardar Harnam Singh (Prem Nath) who comes to his rescue when he attempts to save Tulsi from a gang of hoodlums. He then receives an offer from a corrupt businessman named Nekiram (Madan Puri) who persuades Bharat to do his illegal activities and he and his family will finally come out of poverty and be wealthy. The plot centers on whether Bharat agree to this, or whether his moral nature stop him from turning to crime to provide for his family.Telugu movie "Jeevana Poratam", starring Vijayashanthi, is a remake of this movie.