NEW DELHI: With Emma Watson set to play Belle in Disney's live-action version of 'Beauty and the Beast,' the company plans to bring a taste of Broadway to India by staging a theatre adaptation of the musical with a local cast in what may be a boost for show business in the country.
The Walt Disney Company is looking for actors to play the key characters in the timeless love story of a small town young woman, Belle, and the Beast, a fearsome creature who really is a handsome young prince trapped in a spell.
A Disney India spokesperson confirmed that the company is conducting preliminary auditions. "We look forward to sharing more details once plans are finalised," the spokesperson said.
While the cost of production and other details are not known, Disney's decision to locally produce a musical of the scale of "the Broadway experience" is being seen a shot in the arm for Indian theatre and entertainment groups, which are trying to rope in investors and sponsors to sustain existing works and explore new shows.
The Great Indian Nautanki Company, which runs entertainment destination Kingdom of Dreams in Gurgaon, is seeking to sell a minority stake to raise funds for new concepts after launching three big-budget Hindi musicals -- Zangoora, Jhumroo and Wizwits -- in the past five years.
"The audience is evolving and there is great scope to create new high-quality musicals," said Viraf Sarkari, director of Kingdom of Dreams. "We are in talks with investors to sell a minority stake and should be able to close a deal soon."
The first musical, Zangoora, started about five years ago with an initial one-time budget of Rs 30 crore and now incurs a monthly expense of Rs 2 crore. The average occupancy for the show, which has completed more than 1,500 performances, remains between 65% and 70%.
"All our shows have broken even at an operational level," said Sarkari, whose company charges anything between Rs 500 and 5,000 per ticket, depending on the day of the week and the show.
The focus will remain on developing new concepts in Hindi instead of doing adaptations of international shows. "The response to Disney's upcoming production will be an indication for the future of musical theatre in India," said Sarkari.
Dramatech Theatre Group, based in New Delhi, does shows that cost at least Rs 1 lakh to produce. It is working on a new title called 'Fantasticks' after having done adaptations of musicals such as 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Fiddler on the Roof' in Hindi.
"We are planning a few more productions and buying the rights to stage adaptations of original works popular internationally by paying royalties like $125 per show," said Ravi Raj Sagar, a director with Dramatech. Sagar is working on creating a commercial deal within the group that will focus on attracting finances from sponsors.
Experts say the audience is maturing and open to spending money on popular shows. "A lot of Indians are exposed to good content while travelling to the US, Europe, Singapore and Hong Kong," said George Pulinkala, director of the Delhi Music Theatre, which has done productions, including 'Fiddler on the Roof,' another Broadway musical.
Even so, producers find it difficult to raise funds. Companies that support such endeavours don't spend enough money.
Delhi Music Theatre, which is focussed on musicals, had a consistent sponsor in Four Square, a cigarette brand, until about five years ago. "About Rs 40 lakh used to come from Four Square, but then the government banned tobacco companies from sponsoring," said Pulinkala.
"One show costs at least Rs 10 lakh to produce and it is a challenge to find sponsors," said Pulinkala. "The commercial potential of such entertainment is huge in India, but very few people are willing to take that financial risk." He now primarily works with schools and colleges.
Ali Shah, a Mumbai-based actor who has worked in a number of musicals and Bollywood film 'Haider' and is directing 'The Sound of Music' for schools in India and the Gulf, has another take.
"There is a wrong notion that theatre is a dying art form. We have witnessed houseful for most of our shows, which have been produced with low budgets," said Shah, who has worked in Urdu musicals such as 'Ghalib,' produced by Delhi-based Pierrot's Troupe.