Has ‘Himmatwala’ Lowered Disney’s Brand Equity In India?

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Recent films produced by Disney UTV like ‘Himmatwala’ and ‘Race 2’ have received a lot of flak, by audiences and critics alike, for being crass, vulgar and extremely negligent to the main star of the film – the script. This makes one wonder whether it is time for the behemoth studio to rethink it’s direction in India.

Walt Disney, the famed International family entertainment company has been active in making super hit children’s films since the early 1900’s. Also involved in parks and resorts, studio entertainment, consumer products and interactive media, Disney is a Dow 30 company.

In early 2011, talks began for a tie-up between Disney and UTV Motion Pictures, an Indian production house in business since the late 1990’s.

In 2012, the Walt Disney Co. acquired the media firm UTV for an estimated $454 million.

However, since then it seems, the hits churned out have completely lacked the vision and spirit of Hollywood’s previous, much-loved Disney films like ‘Mary Poppins’, ‘Bambi’, ‘The Lion King’, ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Lady and The Tramp’ and many others.

Disney UTV sure did make a half-hearted attempt in 2009, by producing and distributing the animated film ‘Roadside Romeo’ (which featured voice-overs by Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor), but the box office failure of that film perhaps made the studio change gears and venture into what we can now safely term as the ‘poor-on-content’, child-unfriendly films that they’ve been churning out for a few years now.

The hits being churned out of Disney UTV’s stables have been diametrically opposite to what Disney had set out to do in India.

Sample this: MD, Walt Disney Company in India, Mahesh Samrat had said in 2011, when the acquisition was being finalised: “Together with UTV, our goal is to produce films that have a direct connection with the dynamic and expanding India audience and that embody Disney brand values – optimistic, fun, meaningful and emotional entertainment for the entire family.”

However, they have since failed to live up to the promise of providing “fun, meaningful and wholesome entertainment for the entire family” with films like ‘Race 2’ (currently has a PIL against it for “nudity, vulgarity”) and ‘Himmatwala’ (the less said of this film, the better). The list goes on with more mindless comedies like ‘Rowdy Rathore’, ‘Joker’ and ‘Tees Maar Khan’.

Some films from the production house that have been appreciated widely for their scripts have been: ‘Delhi Belly’, ‘Udaan’, ‘I Hate Luv Storys’, ‘Raajneeti’, ‘Life in a Metro’, ‘Kaminey’ and ‘Guzaarish’. However, many of these are in association with other productions house and most importantly, none qualify for checking in the ‘kid-friendly’ box at all!

Their upcoming films include ‘Chennai Express’, ‘Ghanchakkar’ and ‘Satyagraha’: again, one wouldn’t dare to expect these from a banner such as Walt Disney.

Recently, chairman, Walt Disney International, Andy Bird was in India as part of the FICCI Frames held in Mumbai, where he spoke about the reasons why Walt Disney acquired UTV, and their vision for the future.

“When we made the decision to buy UTV, we did it with two considerations in mind – the first was to create a diverse company in India and as importantly to acquire the talents of Ronnie Screwvala to run the new company. With the acquisition of UTV and the creation of the new Walt Disney Company India, Disney became India’s leading film studio and TV producer. We also added six of the country’s most popular entertainment, and film channels to our portfolio, so we’re now one of India’s leading broadcasters as well, reaching more than 100 million viewers every week across the country,” said Bird.

Note how there’s no mention of the original values of creating and headlining family films that they’d set out to incorporate into the merged company, when they began operations in 2012?