Home / Industry / Disney banks on upcoming films to build brand in India

After a slow start in the country, The Walt Disney Co. India, part of the $191 billion American conglomerate The Walt Disney Co. has lined up a slew of films for 2016.

The list includes the Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal on the life of Haryana wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, Anurag Basu-helmed Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif-starrer Jagga Jasoos and Ashutosh Gowariker’s period drama Mohenjo Daro.

Declining to be named, film industry executives said that the total investment riding on the three films is close to 450 crore.

The company produced Khoobsurat, featuring Sonam Kapoor and Pakistani actor Fawad Khan, in 2014 and ABCD 2 with Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor this year. While Khoobsurat earned nearly 25 crore in India, according to movie website Bollywood Hungama, and another 40 crore internationally, ABCD 2 saw its net collections surge to touch 105 crore in the country. ABCD 2 ranks third in the list of highest grossing Hindi films released so far in 2015.

The Walt Disney Co., which set foot in India in 2004, also enjoys a presence in the Indian market through its subsidiary, UTV Motion Pictures, formerly owned by Ronnie Screwvala. Disney has a controlling interest in UTV Motion Pictures.

In 2014 and 2015, UTV Motion Pictures produced and distributed several successful Hindi feature films, namely, 2 States, Heropanti, Kick, Raja Natwarlal, Haider and PK. Together, they earned more than 800 crore.

Having two production brands is not really about making more money. “There is no extra monetary gain for them," trade analyst Komal Nahta said. “It’s just a matter of producing films under a different banner owned by the same studio. But there is no question of it not helping the studio because Disney has such great recall value as a brand," he added.

Disney first acquired a 14.9% stake in UTV for about $15 million in 2006. It increased the stake to 50.44% in 2011 and finally ended up with a controlling interest via a subsidiary in 2012.

With a clutch of films produced under the Disney banner, the idea now is to establish it firmly as a brand in India.

“In the past, most of the content we produced at Disney has had kids as the entry point. However, we are now moving to define the brand as one that brings great entertainment to the entire family," said Siddharth Roy Kapur, managing director, The Walt Disney Co. India.

This brand philosophy runs across all Disney divisions—from movies to television to consumer products to mobile gaming. Kapur said the Disney Channel today has transitioned into a family channel from being purely for children.

In their consumer products business, adults’ fashion is now a focus area across apparel, accessories, footwear and many other categories, reflective of the conscious strategy to establish Disney as more than a brand for children in India.

But it’s a lot about the movies as well. “I believe our studio business will play a key role in proliferating the brand and at the end of the day, it will be the range and depth of the content that we put out that defines it," Kapur said.

He emphasized that they made a strong start with Khoobsurat last year, which was a quintessential Disney film and very popular with teenagers and young adults. More recently with ABCD 2, which both kids and parents loved, they couldn’t have asked for a better validation of their strategy for Disney movies. “It was a simple and inspiring story with strong values, much entertainment and a great deal of emotion, and that is how we are defining Disney-branded movies," he said.

The Walt Disney Co. India intends to create distinct brand identities for the two film houses and it is for the studio to judge which brand is appropriate for a particular script. Disney will focus on entertainers meant for the entire family while films with darker and deeper plots, akin to Haider, will fall under UTV.

The line-up for next year clearly follows this description. “When you look at the films we have lined up under the Disney brand in 2016—Jagga Jasoos, Mohenjo Daro and Dangal—you will see that we are tapping into entertaining and uplifting stories from many different genres, including sports, adventure, period drama and more, with great talent backing up each of these movies," Kapur said.

“These are films you can watch with the family, take your kids to. It is high-quality entertainment with a heart," said Amrita Pandey, vice-president and head of marketing and distribution studios at The Walt Disney Co. India. “Plus, it makes not just for immediate international connect but also a realization for audiences at home that Broadway and West End kind of entertainment are coming to India."

This, in a way, is Disney’s biggest challenge, too. “Disney as a brand will never dilute itself and will produce only one kind of films. But it has to cater to a market that needs a lot. Indian audiences look for everything from romance to comedy to even double-meaning stuff in their movies," said Nahta.

Pandey, however, insists that Disney has had a great start in India and the only challenge it faces is good scripts and creative minds. The strategy is to do fewer movies, paying close attention to what they pick up even though they don’t have any investment barriers. “We want to be judicious. That means developing movies internally and working with like-minded people."

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