Rajkumar Death Prompts Bizarre Reaction

The death of Indian film superstar Rajkumar (aka Raj Kumar) and subsequent rioting and mayhem yesterday has received almost no attention in the American press. WaPo has the AP wire report, although one has to search its website to find it. The NYT has an original story but it in buried on the “Movies” section and gives short shrift to the ensuing violence. Indeed, of the major outlets I pay attention to, only NPR’s Morning Edition gave it substantial coverage.

Most likely, this is because Rajkumar was largely unknown in the United States. Indeed, while I posted on the story yesterday, I did it on my pop culture sideblog. Still, this is a very unusual reaction to the death by natural causes of a man in his mid seventies (reports range from 76 to 78):

Rajkumar Riot Photo

From AP:

Hundreds of distraught fans rioted in Bangalore when police prevented them from forcing their way into the late actor’s home, New Delhi Television reported. Police used bamboo canes to drive away angry fans who shattered the windows of several buses and set a half-dozen cars and motorcycles on fire. The actor’s body was later moved to a large public park in the heart of the city to allow fans to pay their last respects. The regional government in southern India has decided to give Kumar a state funeral, according to Press Trust of India.


As the news of the demise of Rajkumar spread, stray incidents of violence were reported in various parts of the city with emotion choked fans targeting vehicles, business establishments and shops. Several vehicles, including some of police, bore the brunt of the crowd fury, which also resulted in traffic chaos following setting up of road blocks, a situation that forced the public transport, including autorickshaws, off the roads.

Fans of Rajkumar did not even spare the residence of their adored actor as they damaged the lawns and window panes in their attempt to gain entry to have a last glimpse of him. Even as the ambulance carrying the body of Rajkumar reached his Sadashivanagar residence, thousands of his fans had already gathered there and the police personnel were struggling to control the milling crowd which turned berserk.

From what I can gather from the various reports, the American actor most closely analogous to Rajkumar was John Wayne. While he had never been a child actor, he nonetheless had a career that spanned half a century and made a comparable number of films. He died at roughly the same age, also of natural causes. There were, so far as I can recall, no riots.

Now, mass mayhem over cultural phenomena is not unknown in the West, either. The English soccer riots are legendary. And there have been several incidents of vehicles being overturned and fires set in American cities after a major sporting event. Those, however, can at least be attributed partly to alcohol and getting hyped up during an emotional event. Mass hysteria over a peaceful death, though, is totally alien to me.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    I watched the Khomeini funeral on Iranian TV (from Bahrain). What happened went far beyond “mass hysteria” as the crowds jammed the streets, slowing the procession nearly to a stop. And then they caused the coffin to tumble onto the roadway…