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Disney India confirms ending Hindi film production

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MUMBAI: Reams and reams of newsprint and countless words have been written over the past week, about the exit of Disney India from the motion picture business and the departure of its managing director Siddharth Roy Kapur. The company refrained from reacting to any of the news reports.

But it has now decided to issue an official statement confirming that it is indeed bringing down the curtains on its bold Hindi production initiative which it once considered as a crown jewel when it acquired UTV from Ronnie Screwvala four years ago.

“We periodically review and realign our business priorities in response to evolving market dynamics. Given the challenges with the current economic model for investing in the local film industry, we intend to shift the focus of our film strategy to driving our Hollywood movie slate in India. These movies have enjoyed considerable success, including The Jungle Book, which is the highest-grossing Hollywood movie of all time in India. 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,” reads the official statement from the company, which is to be attributed to ‘Disney spokesperson.’

While Disney India has reserved all comments about Sid hanging up his boots, there is clear indication that he is quitting as a headhunt has commenced to find a replacement for him. .

To many industry observers the decision to bring up the closing scene to its Hindi film production story, is not a sudden move but is a very calculated step that seeks to have it focusing on nurturing the revenue generating businesses rather than doing the balancing act at the local box office.

While some may point that it is the dud performance of Mohenjo Daro at the box office that served as the catalyst behind this decision, it is the overall market dynamics that doesn’t favour profitability in the movie making business, is Disney India's belief.

The Hindi box office has been declining in the last few years whereas Hollywood has grown by almost 50 per cent this year. Out of the 250 plus Hindi movies that release every year and within the top 20, less than half the films make profits for the investing studio. Considering the cost of each film, it is very hard to get that money back and make moolah with the limited screens that the country has, shared a veteran in the movie distribution business. Even if a movie does make money, a lion's share of that profit goes to the stars.

Since Walt Disney is in the business of making money, staying in the Hindi film market doesn’t make sense for it.

“Few of the projects that they have greenlit didn’t make practical sense honestly. Filmmakers and studios need to draw realistic budgets if they are to stay in business. A movie like Mohenjo Daro that required a heavy budget due to its historic storyline didn’t seem like a sensible investment from a business standpoint. Not to mention instead of a solo release, it hit the screens with another project and therefore the number of screens it was exposed to were less,” opined Mumbai-based film distributor Rajesh Thadani.

To be fair to Disney India, Thadani shared that several other studios including Balaji and 20th Century Fox have had their fair share of mistakes and calls this development at Disney India a cue for the film industry to do a reality check for a more realistic approach to making films. “It won't impact the film making in the industry but it definitely has given the corporate world food for thought,” he shared.

While the studio will not sign any new production deals in the Indian film market, it will release the promised magnum opuses with due diligence -- Dangal in December 2016 and Jagga Jasoos in April 2017.

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