The film is set in 1943-44, when
famine struck Bengal during the British rule in India. It
was a man made famine. As the British government cornered
the civilian food supply for its armies, the people starved.
The famine claimed the lives of five million people.
The story takes place in
a small village where the famine affects the lives of
the families in different ways.
Gangacharan, an educated
Brahmin, has recently arrived to settle in the village with
his wife. He decides to teach and conduct religious
ceremonies in exchange for being supported by the villagers.
The villagers readily agree. His wife, Ananga, is a sensuous
woman. She is sensitive, giving, and devoted to her husband.
The distant World War II
changes the village. Gangacharan is only little more
informed than the villagers. He knows that Japan has taken
over Singapore but he has no idea where it is. As a few
aeroplanes disturb the peaceful sky, the word goes around
that the war will result in a scarcity of rice. The price of
rice soars as the traders hide their stocks to make huge
To eat, the villagers are
reduced to animal-like existence and forced to beg for food.
Gangacharan, shrewd and stingy, has managed to keep himself
supplied with food but it may not last long. Ananga offers
to work for food but Gangacharan is shocked at the idea of
her doing manual labour. Soon, he is forced to change his
views and Ananga goes to work with other village women.
A man with a burnt face (scarface)
offers a married village woman – Chutki – a bribe of rice to
go with him. She refuses but later the hunger drives her to
Ananga offers her gold bangle
to Gangacharan to exchange it for rice. As he goes to a
nearby village to in search of rice, she goes into the
forest with Chutki and another woman to look for wild
potatoes. Not used to manual labour, Ananga sees a
flower and goes for it. The village women find some
potatoes. A man tries to take Ananga; Chutki kills the man
with the bar she used to dig out the potato.
But Chutki herself would
rather live in dishonour than die of hunger. Once again, she
joins the scarface despite her revulsion towards him.
An untouchable-caste woman
dies of hunger; the first starvation death in the village.
Gangacharan, breaking the taboo, picks up her hand take her
pulse. He feels obliged to give her a proper cremation.
Even as we learn that Ananga
is pregnant, we see the villagers leave in search of food in
silhouettes. The screen is filled with a statement – "Over
five million died of starvation and epidemics in Bengal in
what has come to be known as the man-made famine of 1943."