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Hazari Pal lives in a small village in Bihar, India, with his dad, mom, wife, Kamla, daughter, Amrita, and two sons, Shambhu and Manooj. As the Pal are unable to repay the loan they had taken years ago from a moneylender, their land and property are auctioned, and they are rendered homeless. Hazari and his family re-locate to Calcutta with hopes of starting life anew, save some money and go back to Bihar, as well as get Amrita married. Things do not go as planned, as they ... more
Hazari Pal lives in a small village in Bihar, India, with his dad, mom, wife, Kamla, daughter, Amrita, and two sons, Shambhu and Manooj. As the Pal are unable to repay the loan they had taken years ago from a moneylender, their land and property are auctioned, and they are rendered homeless. Hazari and his family re-locate to Calcutta with hopes of starting life anew, save some money and go back to Bihar, as well as get Amrita married. Things do not go as planned, as they lose their entire savings to a con-man, Gangooly, who took their money as rent by pretending to be a landlord. Then Hazari gets an opportunity to take up driving a rickshaw manually through a local godfather, Ghatak. He gets to meet a American, Dr. Max Lowe, and together they strike up a friendship along with a local social worker, Joan Bethel. Misunderstandings crop up between Joan and the Godfather, resulting in the shutting down of their shanty medical clinic. When Hazari sides with Joan, his rickshaw is taken away. Things get worse when the Godfather passes away, leaving his estate to his way-ward son, Ashok Ghatak, who has plans to do away with the slums, especially the lepers who have now started frequenting the locality, Max, Joan and above all Hazari himself, and he is determined to take the "joy" of living in Calcutta.
Independent of each other, the Pal family - parents Hazari and Kamla, and their three offspring Amrita, Shambu and Manooj - and Max Lowe arrive in Calcutta, their initial dealings there being less than positive. After losing their farm in the nearby countryside to the "money lender", the Pals are in the city in search of a better life, especially in wanting to build a dowry for Amrita who is now of marrying age. Max, a Houston based surgeon who fell into the career as a matter of family obligation, quit his job unable to cope with the emotional toll especially of losing patients, and has come to Calcutta in search of spiritual enlightenment. Their lives converge by chance in the slum neighborhood nicknamed the City of Joy, most specifically at the makeshift City of Joy Clinic and School opened and operated by Irishwoman Joy Bethel who came to Calcutta on a whim and never left. While the Pals eventual settle in the City of Joy, Joy herself tries to convince Max to provide his much needed medical services to the clinic, which he eventually but reluctantly agrees for as long as he is in Calcutta, which is longer than he may have originally planned if only in having troubles trying to get back to the US. In addition to some seeing Max as having no long term commitment to the neighborhood like the Pals who are now residents, two others issues in combination threaten the lives of those in the City of Joy, including Max, Joy and the Pals, and the livelihood of the clinic: the broadening of the services to include a nearby leper colony, some in the neighborhood who do not want to associate with them; and the control of the neighborhood by the corrupt Ghatak family - the patriarchal Godfather as he is referred to and his more violent son Ashok - who own much of the neighborhood property, own many of the neighborhood services (such as the rickshaw services, Hazari who has gotten a job as one of their rickshaw drivers) and who require "protection money" from other neighborhood businesses such as from the clinic to maintain the peace.