Why the Fox deal may resurrect Disney’s film business in India

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New Delhi: The Walt Disney Co.’s agreement to buy Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. may have taken the global entertainment industry by storm but it is in the Indian film market that the most positive implications of the $52.4 billion deal are expected.

While a Fox executive, on condition of anonymity, said it would take at least a year for the Indian arms of the two entities to gain clarity on film plans, industry experts emphasize that the Fox deal will definitely be an opportunity for Disney to look at Bollywood afresh after deciding to halt Indian film production in 2016 and focus on distributing Hollywood projects.

Currently, Fox Star Studios is in a strong position in Bollywood on the basis of its existing library and upcoming slate that includes projects with big names such as Karan Johar, Sajid Nadiadwala and Rajkumar Hirani. Apart from Hindi, Fox also has big plans for Bengali, Tamil and Malayalam cinema.

“2017 has been a phenomenal year for Fox. Apart from the occasional misadventure like A Gentleman, it’s made all the right moves,” said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema.

“It’s very logical for Disney to take up Fox’s fantastic movie slate given that they have pretty much cleaned up their theatrical infrastructure here and withdrawn in a planned manner,” said Utpal Acharya, founder of film company Indian Film Studios, adding that it would make sense to merge the entire Fox motion pictures team with Disney’s.

Another big advantage for Disney lies in Fox’s overseas movie distribution network. As early as 2010, it had emerged as the first Hollywood studio to take an Indian film, Karan Johar’s My Name Is Khan, across the world.

“Fox has been the pioneer in opening up the overseas market for Indian films,” said film distributor and exhibitor Akshaye Rathi, adding that the consolidation of conglomerates like Disney and Fox is the only way for movie studios to combat the digital wave.

Initially, Walt Disney had a presence in India through its subsidiary UTV Motion Pictures, formerly owned by Ronnie Screwvala. Eventually, Disney acquired UTV in 2012.

The Fox Star journey in India has been chequered. After disappointments like Bombay Velvet, it found its groove. Six of its releases this year have earned about Rs440 crore in domestic collections. Industry experts unanimously agree it is the top-performing film studio in India by a long shot currently.