Chaos in Bangalore as fans mourn film star Rajkumar

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The Independent Online

At least two people were killed in Bangalore yesterday as distraught mourners went on the rampage at the funeral of one of India's best-loved actors. Buses were set alight and private cars were pelted with stones. Grieving fans armed with rocks chased police in the streets.

These are not scenes the outside world is used to seeing from Bangalore, the hub of India's IT industry and the flagship for its extraordinary pace of economic growth.

But yesterday Bangalore was completely closed down amid scenes of chaos at the funeral of Rajkumar, the biggest star the local Kannada-language film ever produced.

The Indian headquarters of Microsoft, near the film star's home in the city, were stoned by his fans. Rajkumar died on Wednesday of a heart attack at the age of 77.

The mourners' anger had apparently been set off by the fact they were unable to reach the stadium where Rajkumar's body was on display for fans to pay their respects and the crowds tried to storm their way in.

But such scenes of grief spilling over into violence at the death of a movie star are not unusual in south India, where the biggest stars command extraordinarily intense followings. There were similar riots in Madras when the Tamil film-star-turned-politician MG Ramachandran died in 2001, and some of his fans even killed themselves in grief.

Yesterday the old India of such passionate followings came crashing up against gleaming office blocks of the new in Bangalore.

As Bangalore has been transformed into the centre of India's IT industry and people have moved in from across India and the outside world, the local Kannada-speaking culture has come under assault from Hindi, the main language of northern India, and English.

Against that backdrop, Rajkumar was a hero to the ordinary Kannada speakers who still throng Bangalore and the rest of the state of Karnataka. Throughout his career, he refused to make films in the more lucrative Hindi-dominated Bollywood, instead making more than 200 Kannada-language films.

He spearheaded a campaign to ensure Kannada remained the first language taught at schools in the state, and led massive protests against plans to show dubbed television serials originally made in Hindi instead of new Kannada productions.

He retired from acting in the mid-nineties, but remained one of the most popular people in south India. In Karnataka, he was known as Annavaru, or elder brother.

There were violent protests when he was kidnapped by the notorious bandit Veerappan and held in the jungle for several weeks in 2000. "Long live Rajkumar," mourners chanted yesterday amid the chaos in Bangalore. " Our hero is dead. Annavaru was our inspiration," one, Hanumanthaiah, told reporters.

Police said they had lost control of the situation because of the sheer number of people streaming into Bangalore from the rest of the state for the funeral, and last night theyw ere stopping buses on the outskirts of the city to prevent any more coming in.