| A mob overturns a police car after hearing the news of Rajkumar’s death. (Reuters)
Bangalore, April 12: The country’s infotech capital was forcibly shut down and its streets terrorised by hordes of violent movie fans after Kannada cinema’s biggest icon died of natural causes at age 77 this afternoon.
Frightened schoolchildren emerging from exam halls found the streets strewn with burning tyres and blocked by barricades, a few government buses with smashed windscreens virtually the only transport left.
Most offices ' including software firms ' were scared enough to decide to stay shut tomorrow, too, while the 24x7 call centres asked Wednesday night’s shift to continue till Thursday night while the day shift stayed home.
Gangs on motorcycles and cars descended on the roads and moved around menacingly, enforcing an instant “bandh”, as soon as they learnt that Rajkumar ' the Amitabh Bachchan of local cinema and a hero to the pro-Kannadiga constituency ' had died in a heart attack.
Waving the state’s official yellow-and-red flag ' a symbol of Kannadiga pride ' they ordered people out of offices, shops, malls, restaurants and pubs, forced managements to close down, and torched cars, buses and police vans. A Microsoft research centre was stoned in the city centre.
As the streets were left deserted by 5 pm, BPO and IT workers, who make up a large slice of the city’s workforce, worried whether their night shift would begin at all.
“I’ve been told the cab will arrive, but I’m not sure whether I’ll be safe on my way back tomorrow morning,” an anxious Kavitha Srinivas said.
The vandalism was a throwback to July-August 2000, when Bangalore was shut down for almost a week after Rajkumar was kidnapped by the supposedly Tamil nationalist Veerappan, and police feared a backlash against the Tamil minority in Karnataka.
Chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy called for restraint and declared state mourning on Thursday ' when the funeral will be held -- announcing all government offices, schools, colleges, banks and theatres will be closed. So will be restaurants and small businesses which, like the IT firms, asked staff not to turn up tomorrow.
With this week already having two bank holidays -- Tuesday and Friday ' many Bangaloreans like Aditya N. were cursing their luck.
Verghese George, who had left his car for servicing at a Maruti outlet, was told not to expect it before Saturday morning. “I had planned a three-day weekend with my family; now I have no car to take them anywhere,” he rued.
Rajkumar, a veteran of over 200 films, had shot into national limelight six years ago when he was kidnapped from his farmhouse near Mysore by Veerappan. The actor spent 105 days in the forests and was freed only after allegedly paying a ransom of Rs 20 crore.
Rajkumar’s fans are known to erupt in violence at the slightest provocation. Though incomprehensible to most, psychologists tried to explain this as an expression of love gone wrong.
“It’s a deviant way of expressing love and affection,” said Dr P. Kodandaram, consulting clinical psychologist and former professor at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Science, Bangalore.
“They (the fans) want to be recognised as the one who did the most damage. ‘If you burnt one tyre in your area, I burnt four’ is the kind of message they want to send across. It is a kind of competitive destruction. The fans were waiting for an outlet to express their suppressed emotions.”
Television reports showed huge crowds laying siege to an ambulance bearing the actor’s body and trying to climb in through the vehicle’s smashed windows.
The body has been placed at the sprawling Bangalore Palace to allow fans to pay their last respects.
Rajkumar, born Muthuraja Singanalluru Puttaswamayya, died at M.S. Ramaiah hospital near his home with his family by his side.
He had been admitted to hospital in January with “neurological” problems and again in February with chest pain, a bronchial allergy and lung infection. He recovered and was discharged within days.
Family sources said the actor had never got over the shock of younger brother Varadaraj’s death a few months ago. He is survived by wife Parvathamma, actor sons Raghavendra, Shivarajkumar and Puneet, and two daughters.
In keeping with his last wishes, his eyes were donated to an eye bank.