Disney India Getting Out of Bollywood Production (Report)

The Jungle Book Still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of Disney

After setting box office records in India with 'The Jungle Book,' and mis-firing on Bollywood title 'Mohenjo Daro," the studio is shifting focus to its Hollywood slate.

The Walt Disney Company India is getting out of Bollywood, shifting its focus from local-language features to marketing its Hollywood slate. 

According to a report in The Economic Times, coming off the record success in India with The Jungle Book as well as some Disney-produced Bollywood flops, including historical epic Mohenjo Daro, the studio is getting out of the Bollywood business.

Instead of focusing on making Indian films for the local market, Disney will look to better market its Hollywood slate in the country.

Disney made box office history in India this summer when The Jungle Book became the highest-grossing Hollywood release in India. The Jon Favreau-directed title, which is set in India, grossed $23.7 million (1.57 billion rupees) within its first 12 days of release beating previous record holder Furious 7, which grossed a total of $23.4 million (1.55 billion rupees) during its entire theatrical run last year. The Jungle Book went on to cross the $30 million (2 billion rupees) mark.

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 box office, up nearly 34 percent from $64.7 million in 2014, according to a recent report by consulting firm KPMG India. This marked the highest-ever annual increase. According to KPMG consultant Jehil Thakkar, that translates into a market share for Hollywood films of around "8 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 for which the studio made an offer of $454 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. 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.

But of late the studio has had a string of flops, among them the romantic drama Fitoor, released in February and starring actress Katrina Kaif and actor Aditya Roy Kapoor, and the big-budget Mohenjo Darostarring actor Hrithik Roshan, which opened August 12 to mixed reviews and a disappointing box office.

In its review, THR said the film “seems fated to go down in history as an epic disaster of a movie (from an aesthetic standpoint)."

India does not report independent box office figures, but according to trade analyst Taran Adarsh Mohenjo Daro collected $8.3 million (550.6 million rupees) by its second week. “Both Fitoor and Mohenjo Daro did not perform as expected,” said Adarsh while pointing that the studio still had a good run with its April release, Baaghi, starring actor Tiger Shroff and actress Shraddha Kapoor.

“It is unfortunate that Disney has decided to pull the plug on the Hindi film production business, which UTV was known and respected for,” the Times report stated, quoting an unnamed source in the company who added, “But in the current scenario, it is unviable and loss-making. I hope we will revive this business in the future.”

The source also said that Disney India managing director Siddharth Roy Kapur will exit the company after his contract ends in January. An earlier report by business paper Mint also quoted sources suggesting that Kapur is “likely” to quit the company.

Asked for comment by THR, Disney India did not respond in time for publication.

Currently, the other Hollywood studios active in local content production include Fox Star Studios India, Viacom18 Motion Pictures and Sony, which was the first U.S. studio to produce a Bollywood film with 2007's Saawariya. Warner also forayed into Bollywood in 2009, but subsequently exited local production and distribution and is currently focused on its Hollywood releases. Sony is now gearing up to expand its local slate and recently announced the appointment of former Endemol India executive Ram Mirchandani as its head of creative development.

Looking ahead, Disney's upcoming Bollywood releases include the much-awaited wrestling drama Dangal starring actor Aamir Khan, who delivered the hit PK, which opens December 23. The studio's other major release is Jagga Jasoos starring actor Ranbir Kapoor and actress Katrina Kaif which is set to open next April.