Disney India Confirms Focus on Hollywood Films, Cites "Challenges" With Bollywood "Economic Model"

The Jungle Book Still 6 - H 2016
Courtesy of Disney

The Jungle Book Still 6 - H 2016

After setting box-office records in India with 'The Jungle Book' and misfiring on Bollywood title 'Mohenjo Daro,' the studio is shifting focus.

The Walt Disney India Company has made it official, publicly confirming on Thursday that it will shift its focus to driving its Hollywood slate in India and ending Bollywood production “given the challenges with the current economic model for investing in the local film industry.”

The official statement comes after local reports first suggested last week that Disney was getting out of producing local films following the weak performance of some of its recent releases. The studio's latest title, historical epic Mohenjo Daro, has been a critical and commercial disappointment following its Aug. 11 opening.

India does not report independent box-office figures, but according to trade analyst Taran Adarsh, Mohenjo Daro had brought in 550.6 million rupees ($8.3 million) by its second week. The film's budget is estimated at over $15 million.

Similarly, romantic drama Fitoor, starring actress Katrina Kaif and actor Aditya Roy Kapoor, also was poorly received when it was released in February.

On the other hand, Disney made box-office history earlier in the summer when The Jungle Book became the highest-grossing Hollywood release in India ever. The Jon Favreau-directed title, which is set in India, grossed $23.7 million within its first 12 days of release, beating previous record-holder Furious 7, which grossed a total of $23.4 million during its entire theatrical run last year. The Jungle Book went on to cross the $30 million mark in the country.

“We periodically review and realign our business priorities in response to evolving market dynamics,” Disney India said Thursday, adding that the "shift in focus" to the studio's Hollywood slate comes because “these movies have enjoyed considerable success, including The Jungle Book."

Concluded the company: "We remain optimistic about the incredible potential of the Indian market and will continue to invest in growing the Disney brand in India with our movies, television networks, consumer and interactive products and live experiences.”

Disney's other strong Hollywood performers in India include last year's The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which collected $16.2 million and was ranked third among 2015's top 10 Hollywood earners in the country, according to a report by consultancy KPMG India.

Though the much-hyped Star Wars: The Force Awakens only managed to reach $4.6 million, as it weathered strong competition from two big Bollywood releases in December, the J.J. Abrams-directed title still landed in the seventh spot, according to KPMG.

Hollywood's share of the Indian film market is still small but it's growing. Last year, the top 10 Hollywood theatrical releases grossed a total of around $98 million at the Indian box office, up nearly 34 percent from $64.7 million in 2014, according to KPMG. This marked the highest-ever annual increase. According to KPMG consultant Jehil Thakkar, that translated into a market share for Hollywood films of around 8 percent to 9 percent, compared to “about 6 percent” previously.

The report also showed that total revenue in 2015 for the entire Indian film industry was up by nine percent to $2.09 billion. This would mean that Hollywood's box-office take in the region amounted to about $188 million.

Disney expanded its Indian presence in 2012 when it acquired a controlling stake in UTV, a leading broadcasting, film and media company.

In addition to its TV business — to which Disney added its bouquet of kids' channels — UTV's film arm was a strong Bollywood player with major releases to its credit, such as Anurag Kashyap's 2009 breakout Dev.D, and co-production credits on international titles including Mira Nair's The Namesake. Following the Disney takeover, UTV delivered a number of Hindi-language hits, including 2014's PK, which is estimated to have grossed more than $100 million.

Looking ahead, Disney will release its existing Bollywood slate starting with the much-awaited wrestling drama Dangal, toplined by Aamir Khan, who delivered the hit PK. Dangal is set to open Dec. 23. The studio's other major release is Jagga Jasoos, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif, which is set to open in April.