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Disney Poised to Slash Staff in India Even as ‘Dangal’ Rules Box Office

MUMBAI – Disney is expected to cut about 90 members of its staff in India, having previously announced that it is getting out of local film production. The move comes at a moment when its penultimate Indian film investment, “Dangal,” is breaking box office records.

Widely circulated Indian media reports put Disney’s head count in India at 600 prior to the layoffs. The staff reduction, confirmed by a company spokesman, comes as Disney India’s final movie, “Jagga Jasoos,” awaits an April 7 release.

Disney sources describe the India restructuring as “recalibrating the operations.” Emphasis on consumer products, retail partnerships and games will be combined to deliver a “holistic, franchise approach.”

Disney’s Dec. 23 release “Dangal” has grossed $70.3 million (INR 4.8 billion) locally. This week it emerged as the highest grossing Hindi-language film in India. It dethroned 2014’s “PK,” produced by Disney India’s erstwhile film production arm UTV Motion Pictures, which had a domestic gross of $69.2 million. Both films star Bollywood megastar Aamir Khan.

After a string of under-performing local films, Disney announced in July that it would halt production and distribution of Indian movies. The latest media reports say that most of the job cuts will come from UTV. Disney paid $494 million in 2012 to acquire an outstanding 49% stake in the business.

Andy Bird, chairman of Walt Disney International, said the staff reduction in India was part of the ordinary course of business. “There is always rebalancing and recalibration to reflect local market realities,” Bird said. “We constantly look at the evolution of our company in every market we do business in.”

At the time of the production cutback in the fall, a Disney India spokesman told Variety: “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.”

Since then, several senior executives have exited. In October, Siddharth Roy Kapur quit as managing director. He was replaced by Mahesh Samat, who returned to the same job he’d held four years earlier. In recent weeks, Nikhil Gandhi quit as VP and head of revenue media networks at Disney India, and Sameer Ganpathy quit as head of interactive.

“Moving forward, we’ll accelerate the great work done by the team and create new, innovative ways for audiences to engage with our stories, brands and characters, and drive growth across our businesses,” Samat had said upon joining the operation.

From all indications, Disney India will now concentrate on distribution of its Hollywood movie slate, its Hungama and Bindass broadcast channels, and on consumer goods. With a take of $38.8 million, the company’s “The Jungle Book” is the highest grossing Hollywood film in India. And character licensing is growing fast in a market where Mickey Mouse is nearly as iconic as in the U.S.

 

“Dangal” still trails “Baahubali: The Beginning” which grossed approximately $83 million in 2015. “Baahubali” was released in Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam-language versions in addition to Hindi. “PK” remains the leader in worldwide grosses with $116 million. “Baahubali” has $95 million globally. “Dangal” has currently reached $93 million, including $11 million in North America.

“Dangal” is an extremely special film for us,” said Amrita Pandey, VP, studios, Disney India. “It epitomizes what we aim to achieve through our movies – wholesome family entertainment with such a strong emotional connect and the telling of a story that we strongly believe in.”

James Rainey contributed to this story.

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