Disney released Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” in India on April 8, a week before its U.S. release and is reaping rich dividends. In 12 days of release the film has grossed $23.7 million, making it the highest Hollywood grosser of all time, “Furious 7” earned $23.4 million in 2015.)
“The Jungle Book” also staved off the challenge of “Fan,” starring the popular Shah Rukh Khan that released April 15 and is currently underperforming with a $13.8 million gross.
“The Jungle Book” release is the most recent example of Hollywood studios localizing content in India to increase audience share. The film was dubbed into Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, in addition to the English language version and was rolled out across 1,640 screens across the country.
“‘The Jungle Book’ was not just a big movie, but one that at its heart is an Indian story, which doesn’t happen very often. Most Indians have grown up on stories of ‘The Jungle Book,’ and it is a beloved story that we want to pass on to generations,” Amrita Pandey – VP, Studios, Disney India told Variety. “We didn’t look at it as just a big Hollywood movie. We treated the movie as a big Hindi movie release.”
For the Hindi version, Disney hired popular actors to voice characters with Priyanka Chopra (“Quantico”) performing Kaa, Irrfan Khan (“Jurassic World”) Baloo, Om Puri (“The Hundred-Foot Journey”) Bagheera, Shefali Shah (“Monsoon Wedding”) Raksha and Nana Patekar (“Welcome Back”) Shere Khan.
“Each character was treated in a way that we included local cultural relevance in all the dialogue for each character. This has really paid off as the audience feedback on the Hindi language version has been exceptional,” Pandey said. “The dubbed contribution is a staggering 56% and English is 44%.”
Another marketing ploy that Disney used effectively was to create a new version of the theme song from “Jungle Book: The Adventures of Mowgli”, a Hindi-dubbed version of a popular Japanese animated series that played on state broadcaster Doordarshan in the 1990s.
“This song did wonders for the campaign, as this song is 23 years old and many of us have grown up on this song watching Mowgli and “The Jungle Book Stories” in the 1990s. The nostalgia value of the song was so high,” Pandey said. Disney also flew over Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli, for a whistle stop promotional tour of the country.
Disney has similar plans for their next big release in India “Captain America: Civil War.” Youth icon Varun Dhawan (“Student of the Year”) will lend his voice to Steve Rogers a.k.a Captain America for the film’s Hindi version. Disney is also looking at ways of localizing upcoming releases including “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” “Finding Dory,” “Pete’s Dragon,” “Doctor Strange,” “Moana,” and “Rogue One.”
If these work, along with other major studio release campaigns, Hollywood’s market share in India could expand beyond the current 10%. Meanwhile, Disney which already holds the Bollywood crown with the all-time top box office grosser in “PK,”, now has the Hollywood tiara as well.