Mumbai: Disney makes a major foray into the Indian film market on Friday with the release of its first full-length animation feature using home-grown Bollywood talent.
“Roadside Romeo”, a joint venture between Walt Disney Pictures and leading Indian studio Yash Raj Films, has been two years in the making and tells the story of pampered pet dog Romeo after he is abandoned on the streets of Mumbai.
Characters in the 90-minute film, which producers hope will be a hit over the coming Diwali festive period, are voiced by popular Bollywood actors Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Jaaved Jaaferi.
It also features trademark Bollywood song and dance routines as Romeo encounters fellow strays and falls in love.
Disney, responsible for hits like “WALL-E”, “Ratatouille”, “The Incredibles” and “Finding Nemo” through its Pixar Animations Studios arm, first began operations in India in July 2004.
It has since secured a foothold in the cable television sector, mainly through its children’s outlets the Disney Channel, Hungama TV and Jetix.
Walt Disney Company India’s managing director Mahesh Samat said the expansion into Indian-made animation films was a logical step.
“(Yash Raj Films) are experts in the Bollywood idioms and the local style of story-telling and we are happy to work with them in producing our first local full-length animation feature,” he said in emailed comments to AFP.
“While we understand that this is a relatively nascent market for animation films, we are confident that there’s a large market for decent family entertainment here.
“Animation films work equally well as live action films the world over and there is no reason why they would not work here as well.”
“Roadside Romeo” was inspired by Mumbai’s legions of stray dogs and written by the Bollywood actor Jugal Hansraj, who is making his debut as a director. The animation itself is entirely the work of the Mumbai-based Tata Elxsi outfit.
“I have always loved animation films since my childhood. I have grown up on them and to work with Disney was a fantastic experience,” said Hansraj, citing Disney’s adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book” as among his favourites.
Disney’s tie-up comes at a time when other major Hollywood studios are taking an increasing interest in India’s $2.1-billion-a-year film industry.
Sony Pictures made the first move, co-producing the love story “Saawariya” (Beloved) with acclaimed producer-director Sanjay Leela Bhansali in November 2007.
Warner Brothers is scheduled to release “Chandni Chowk to China”, starring prominent actor Akshay Kumar, in January next year.
Walt Disney India’s Samat told AFP he could not divulge how much Disney was spending in India but said they would fork out “whatever is required to execute these projects to world-class standards”.
“We have currently four live action films in the pipeline, which we are producing ourselves. ‘Zokkomon´ is a film which will star Darsheel Safari and the second is ‘19th Step´, starring Kamal Hassan,” he said.
“We have also started working on our second animation script with Yash Raj Films.”