Disney India to Cut Jobs Amid Exit From Bollywood Productions

Real-life wrestling drama 'Dangal' stars Aamir Khan (left).

The Hollywood giant's India unit could reduce its staff by 15 percent as Walt Disney International chairman Andy Bird says a "re-balancing and re-calibration" is needed "to reflect local market realities."

Walt Disney India will reduce its staff in India as part of a restructuring following the company's announcement last September that it was pulling out of local productions.

The company didn't detail the number of layoffs, which functions would be affected or its target for annual cost savings, but sources said that 90 jobs could be axed. That would amount to about 15 percent of the company's total Indian staff of about 600. The job cuts come at a time when the studio's latest Bollywood release, Dangal, is dominating the Indian box office.

"The staff reduction in India is part of the ordinary course of business," Walt Disney International chairman Andy Bird said in a statement, adding that "there is always re-balancing and re-calibration to reflect local market realities." He concluded: "We constantly look at the evolution of our company in every market we do business in."

Local reports first suggested in December that Disney India was set to restructure its operations, leading to potential job cuts mostly at its UTV unit following the appointment of Mahesh Samat as managing director. Samat returned to the company after four years, taking over from Siddharth Roy Kapur.

After acquiring an initial 14.9 percent stake in leading media and entertainment company UTV for about $15 million in 2006, Disney gradually increased its stake in the company over the years, and by 2012 it became the majority owner before acquiring the remaining 49 percent for $494 million. 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 and M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening.

Last year, the studio's Bollywood slate delivered some underperfoming titles, such as historical epic Mohenjo Daro, prompting the company to decide to shift its focus to driving its Hollywood slate in India, "given the challenges with the current economic model for investing in the local film industry."

Disney's The Jungle Book made box-office history in India last summer, becoming the highest-grossing Hollywood release in the country with over $30 million.

Despite exiting local productions, the company added that "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."

The studio's latest Bollywood release, real-life wrestling drama Dangal, which opened over Christmas, has reportedly grossed $70.3 million (4.8 billion rupees) locally to become the highest-grossing Hindi language title of all time. It has beaten previous record holder PK, from Disney's UTV Motion Pictures unit, which starred Aamir Khan. Dangal also stars Khan and has also performed well overseas, collecting $11 million in North America, where it received the widest release for any Indian title, opening across 350 screens.

India does not officially report box-office figures, but industry estimates reckon that, locally, the highest-grossing Indian film so far is 2015 release Baahubali: The Beginning, which was released in Telegu, Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi, collecting an estimated $83 million in the country. But in terms of total worldwide figures, PK is still considered the highest-grossing Indian film of all time with its estimated haul of about $116 million, followed closely by Baahubali's take of $95 million. However, Dangal is inching closer to this figure with its total worldwide gross of $93 million.

Disney will round off its existing Bollywood slate with the April 7 release of Jagga Jasoos, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif.