An icon of south Indian cinema and star of more than 200 films, Raj Kumar, died on Wednesday, sparking widespread violence as distraught fans torched buses and ripped scaffoldings in the country’s hi-tech hub.
The revered actor, who gained nationwide fame in 2000 when he was kidnapped by notorious forest bandit Veerappan, died at his home in Bangalore in the southern state of Karnataka after a heart attack, his doctor said. He was 77.
His death effectively closed down much of the city, witnesses said, with major businesses — including cinema halls — downing shutters out of respect but also in fear of violent mobs that swept through the city as news of the actor’s passing spread.
A Microsoft research institute in the city center was stoned, the company said, and many of India’s leading technology companies concerned over safety sent workers home early.
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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.
A Reuters photographer saw a police car overturned and other vehicles set on fire.
“He was a cult figure,” said fellow actor Anant Nag. “Everybody is at a loss.”
Actors in the southern Indian film industry are often revered with as much intensity as the gods they regularly portray on screen. Many people include icons of their favorite star in their household shrine, alongside portrayals of the more usual Hindu pantheon.
Raj Kumar, sometimes called the John Wayne of the regional Kannada-language film industry, was kidnapped in 2000 along with four members of his family in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu.
The kidnap sparked violent protests as fans demanded his release, and police feared a backlash against the state’s Tamil minority in Karnataka.
He spent 108 days in the jungle bordering the two states before police negotiated his release. Veerappan was shot dead in 2004.