Abandoned by her disabled husband and subjected to constant pressure from her landlord, a mother struggles to raise her sons, one of whom perishes in a flood, while another repays her sacrifices by falling in with a band of rebels.
When this masala masterpiece was released in 1957, director Mehboob Khan was considered the Cecil B. DeMille of Bollywood, and the film's star, Nargis, was its queen.
Essentially a reworking of the director's 1940 hit, Aurat, it proved to be the peak of their careers, yet it remains a landmark in subcontinental cinema.
The first Bollywood movie to land an Oscar nomination, it's ranked among the most widely seen and commercially successful pictures ever produced in Bombay.
Despite its obvious artificiality, it is, as you would expect of someone with Khan's social realist credentials, very much a political statement - a demonstration of national unity a decade after independence.
Yet for such a populist picture, with a seemingly clear message, it's also a mass of contradictions: a paean to Hindi morality directed by and starring a Muslim; a pastorale to the peasantry produced by city sophisticates; and a tribute to motherly love that oozes Oedipal tension.
Put it this way, it's the birth of the Bollywood blockbuster. It should be on every cineaste's must-see list.
Reviewed by David Parkinson