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Walt Disney, Yash Raj in toon tango

Mumbai, June 11: India’s most commercially successful production banner, Yash Raj Films, is all set to become a back office for Walt Disney.

The two have entered into an agreement to produce Disney branded movies that will have Bollywood stars as voice-over artistes.

The move is part of Walt Disney’s declared plans to expand in high growth potential markets through local tie ups to generate 50 per cent of its revenues and profits from its overseas business. In 2006, foreign operations accounted for a quarter of Disney's profit.

The joint venture which will be formally announced on Tuesday in Mumbai by Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook along with top Yash Raj Films (YRF) officials, is expected to make at least one film a year.

“India’s pre-teen population exceeds the total population of the US. It is now well understood that it is tough to beat local content with exported content in India, specially in the entertainment sector. So the diffidence about insisting on marketing US-produced content was given a go by in favour of local content,” said a source in Disney India.

Sources on both side said the deal would open up a huge global market for animation films with Indian content.

“Finally, the fare will be truly Indian, and not translated versions. With the stamp of a Disney brand, YRF will get access to bigger markets across the world and soon, it may be the turn of Indian animation movies to be marketed on foreign shores in translated versions,” said a Yash Raj source.

As a first, Yash Raj is working on an untitled animated film on dogs with Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor. The film, due for release in 2008 is expected to get the Disney brand stamp and will be directed by Jugal Hansraj who starred in YRF’s Mohabbatein (incase you have forgotten him in Shekhar Kapoor’s Masoom).

A animated version of Dhoom 3, planned with Shah Rukh Khan in the lead, may also be on its way. “While top Hollywood stars have lent their voices to Disney animation flicks since long, the trend is not so big in India. But with some top stars already getting into the groove the trend will soon catch on like wildfire,” said the YRF official.

The notable few from Bollywood who have lent their voices to international animation projects include YRF favourite Shah Rukh Khan, Nana Patekar and Amrish Puri. Incidentally, all worked for Disney projects. While SRK lent his voice for the Hindi version of The Incredibles (Ham Hain Lajawab), Patekar was Sher Khan in Jungle Book and the late Amrish Puri brought Ravana alive in Disney's Ramayana.

Yash Raj Films, too has been dabbling with animation, whether in Hum Tum, or Ta Ra Rum Pum. The protagonists in Ta Ra Rum Pum visit a Disney store in New York to celebrate their child’s birthday. YRF is now exploring the possibility of launching a television channel with Raveena Raj Kohli in the driver's seat. “We are ideating right now, but the channel will be a probable platforms for all YRF films including animated ones,” said the YRF source.

Disney already has two television channels in India — the Disney Channel and Toon Disney, which largely broadcast imported content. But last year, the company bought out UTV Software Communications' kids channel Hungama which largely broadcasts indigenous content for $30.5 million. It also picked up a 14.9 per cent stake in the company for $14 million.

For now, the roadmap seems well etched.

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