Disney, YRF toon up Indian pics

Computer-animated films will use Bollywood talent

Walt Disney Studios and Mumbai-based Bollywood banner Yash Raj Films Studios on Tuesday announced a pact to co-produce computer- animated films featuring Indian talent.

The announcement was made in Mumbai by Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, Disney Studios president of motion picture marketing and distribution Mark Zoradi and YRF managing director Yash Chopra.

This marks the first collaboration between the companies, which will see the co-produced films supervised by YRF creative director Aditya Chopra, with computer animation done entirely in India.

Both companies will equally contribute creative, technical and financial support to the films, which will be released in various Indian languages and distributed locally by YRF and internationally by Disney.

"We're thrilled and honored to be working with Yash Chopra and (his son) Aditya Chopra and their talented team at YRF Studios to create exceptional animated films in the Indian language that are culturally relevant for the avid moviegoing audiences in India and around the world," Cook said. "Animation is a new and rapidly expanding area in India, and the collaboration between Disney and YRF Studios will bring the very best in storytelling and cutting-edge technology together as we make wonderful films that appeal to the entire family."

Added Yash Chopra: "When YRF decided to venture into the animation space, we felt that an alliance with Disney Studios, the leader in animation, represented the coming together of not just two organizations, but the teaming up of like-minded individuals committed to creating excellent product. Both companies have a common quest for excellence but also the same culture and traditions."

The first Disney-YRF film will be "Roadside Romeo," which already is in production and slated for 2008, produced by Aditya Chopra and directed by Jugal Hansraj and featuring the voices of Bollywood stars Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor.

Animation for "Romeo" is being handled by Tata ELXSI Ltd., which has facilities in Mumbai and Bangalore.

Although a budget wasn't given, a report in Monday's Wall Street Journal stated that the Disney-YRF films will cost $4 million-$10 million.

Zoradi said that the Disney-YRF alliance is "exclusive for animation features but we will work with other Indian partners for live-action features. Disney-YRF aim to do at least one animation feature every year. We should be announcing our next animation feature within six months."

Disney flirted with Bollywood via Pixar's "The Incredibles," when it was dubbed in Hindi featuring the voice of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.

Given that animation films have yet to make a serious mark at the boxoffice here, despite 2006's homegrown hit "Hanuman," observers will keenly watch the Disney-YRF alliance. As Mumbai-based film trade analyst Taran Adarsh said: "Animation is also about marketing, as the right talent needs to be packaged with the right content. We haven't seen any major success stories in this area so far which is why the Disney-YRF alliance would be an interesting case study."

But India also is an attractive hub for animation outsourcing. A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry predicts that the Indian animation industry will grow from $275 million in 2006 to $725 million by 2011 reflecting a compound annual growth of 22%.

In July, Disney paid $14 million for a 14.9% stake in diversified Mumbai-based entertainment company UTV Communications, which also sold its children's channel, Hungama TV, to Disney for $30.5 million. UTV has interests in film, television and gaming and runs animation studio UTV Toons.

"Our association with Disney is on a nonexclusive basis, so they are open to working with any other company in India as well," Siddharth Roy Kapur, UTV executive vp, marketing, distribution and syndication, said in an interview. "As for how the UTV-Disney alliance will evolve, we are discussing various projects across different platforms."

When asked whether the Disney-YRF films could be outsourced to the UTV Toons facility that employs more than 700 artists, Kapur said: "That is a theoretical possibility."

Established by filmmaker Yash Chopra in 1970, Yash Raj Films has produced some of India's highest-grossing titles including 1976's "Kabhie Kabhie" (Love Is Life), 1981's "Silsila" (Affair) and 1995's runaway hit "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge" (The Lover Will Take the Bride), among others.