Ronnie Screwvala

A Mega Star of this generation

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Rohinton Soli Screwvala, aka Ronnie Screwvala was born on 8th June, 1956 and was the founder and CEO of the vastly acclaimed and renowned UTV Group which includes all of the Bloomberg UTV, UTV Software Communications, UTV Motion Pictures and much more.

A Parsi by origin; Ronnie was born in Mumbai and completed his education from Cathedral & John Connon School and Sydenham College. Ronnie’s father was an executive for the British firms – JL Morrison and Smith & Nephew.

Ronnie is currently married to Zarina Mehta, his second marriage. He happened to meet her during his theatre days with Pearl Padamsee. His first wife was the daughter of Suresh Nanavati, who is the chairman of Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai and also the owner of Western Outdoor Advertising. Screwvala has a daughter – Trishya Screwvala along with Zarina, and together they live in Breach Candy, South Mumbai.

As of now (2015), Ronnie is planning to launch his book, “Dream With Your Eyes Open” and he suggested the release of a TV Show as well, following the release of his much-hyped about book. Since his early days, Ronnie had an ardent interest in theatre following which he also acted in a few professional plays at the Bombay Theatre along with some of the big names in industry like – Pearl and Alyque Padamsee.

UTV has produced more than 70 films up to date. Some of the most noticeable films that Ronnie has produced or co-produced under the UTV Motion Pictures banner include – Rang De Basanti (2006), The Namesake (2006), Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006), Jodha Akbar (2008), Fashion (2008), A Wednesday (2008), Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008), ExTerminators (2009, Hollywood), Kaminey (2009), Udaan (2010), Barfi! (2013), Chennai Express (2013), among many others.

 EARLY LIFE

What many don’t know is that Ronnie didn’t start his career with UTV; his entrepreneurial career started much earlier (a decade back to be exact!). In his youthful days, Ronnie’s father fancied his son into becoming a Chartered Accountant. But Ronnie had other ideas in his mind; he wanted to start his own business and he did.

First up, he took the job of a copywriter. Later, on a trip to England with his father, Ronnie welcomed a chance to visit a hairbrush factory where he witnessed two discarded, fully-automatic toothbrush making machines, and his eyes gleamed with an idea. He bought the duo for £4,000.

When Ronnie returned to India; he never had been more hastened. He started up his own business of manufacturing toothbrushes. Within a few years into the business, his start-up went on to become one of the largest suppliers of toothbrushes in the country, with the company supplying to superlative brands like Colgate-Palmolive among others. In the end, Ronnie sold the company in 2004 at quite a profit.

In fact, there’s more to him than just that. In 1981, at a tender age of 25 years, Ronnie started his own cable network company, “Network”, filling one of the biggest voids of those days. At a time when the only thing available to the home viewers was Doordarshan; Ronnie’s network offered a three-hour-long video channel that showcased movies!

Back in those days, Ronnie went from door-to-door in his building, asking the inhabitants to sign up for his cable network at a price of INR 200/month. What started with just 30 houses; spread like wildfire to the other buildings in Cuffe Parade, Napeansea Road, Hanging Gardens, Colaba, and Breach Candy as well; and within the blink of an eye, Ronnie’s “Network” became The Network!

Regardless of his young age; Ronnie’s thinking was a notch ahead of his time. What he did was highly admirable and innovative. Ronnie evidently understood the importance of good service and made sure that he took care of his customers by maintaining regular visits and featuring family-oriented content with good picture quality on his network. From the beginning itself, Ronnie possessed the persona of a born leader and a determined entrepreneur.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Ronnie was now beginning to step into the big shoes. He, along with his wife Zarina Screwvala and best friend Deven Khote, founded the UTV Group in the year 1990; in a bid to provide television content to its broadcasters. It was indeed, the very first independent production house of India; the company started their profound journey by making advertisements and corporate films.

Quickly then, it started producing quiz shows for Doordarshan, namely “Mashoor Mahal” wherein Ronnie himself took on the job of assistant director for the show. Ronnie also created, directed and produced many other shows, including “Shakuntala”, “The Mathemagic Show”, “Contact”, “Lifeline (a short film), among others.

Within less than two decades, UTV had expanded itself into film, broadcasting, gaming, and various other businesses!

The big jump for the company came during its time of incorporation. At the time when they were engaged in producing ad films and television content for Doordarshan – Prasar Bharati; Subhash Chandra owned ZEE TV had just begun its journey. Subhash was in search of some good-quality but low budget content for his channel and was prepared to experiment with some creativity. And with Ronnie in sight, there was no looking any further; they signed a 550-episode contract and with that, there was no looking back whatsoever for Screwvala!

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Ronnie’s Rise to Fame

After the deal with ZEE TV, the following chain of events started to unfold:

UTV sought to widen its gaze and incorporated in-flight entertainment with the cooperation of Air-India.

In the year 1993, the company started gathering external producers and began marketing airtime on their programs.

After a couple of years, in 1995, UTV launched a daily soap, named “Shanti.” After that, they acquired 54.60% stakes in Laezer Production Private Limited with a plan to enter into the post-production business. Later, in December 1995, he renamed the company to “UTV Studios Limited” and started providing post-production facilities to private producers, television software houses along with advertisers. The company in the same year ventured into movie distribution business as well.

The following year, in 1996, UTV grabbed a Disney contract wherein they were given the right to dub the whole of Disney’s library into Indian languages. The same year, UTV started offering its in-flight entertainment package in international airlines as well.

In the year 1998, one of the company’s subordinates, USL (UTV Studios Limited) acquired Ram Mohan Biographies (an animation production house) and later renamed it to RM-USL which again changed its name to finally become UTV Toons.

Subsequently, UTV took a distinctive turn into broadcasting and acquired a controlling interest in Vijay Television Limited (which operated Vijay TV – a 24-hour Tamil channel from Chennai via United Breweries Group).

In the year 2000, UTV incorporated a group company called “UTV Net Solutions Ltd. (UTV Net)”. With an 86% stake, their main focus was now on content creation for Internet via Indian Regional Language portal (with dual language content) and control of their audio/video library rights for internet usage.

Soon after, in the same year, UTV bought “Western Outdoor Media Technologies Limited (WOMTL)” with clear intentions of gaining a leading position in the post-production special effects and animation genre.

In the year 2004, UTV launched the much hyped about kids channel, “Hungama TV” which became an instant hit with kids in no time; making it one of the most sought after kids channel in the country.

In the following year i.e. in 2005, the UTV group got itself listed in the Bombay & National Stock Exchange.

In due course, UTV made an outsourcing partnership deal with a US-based BKN New Media Inc worth $10 Million. After the much puffed up deal; UTV Toons expanded to about 200 employees and also purchased an additional eight software licenses for Autodesk 3D.

In the year 2008, UTV entered the foray of broadcasting business via its broadcast channel, UTV Global Broadcasting Ltd. (UGBL) and progressed on to opening six channels, namely –

  • Bindass (formerly UTV Bindass)
  • UTV Stars
  • UTV Action (formerly Bindass Movies)
  • UTV Movies
  • UTV Movies International (International service available in North America, United Kingdom)
  • UTV World Movies
  • UTV ACTION TAMIL

In the year 2011, a prolific era finally came to an end as Ronnie finally sold off UTV to ‘The Walt Disney Enterprises’ at around INR 20 billion or simply INR 2,000 crores.

The dream run was finally overhauled by Disney, who, as part of the deal made a complete buyout of the public shareholders and also delisted UTV from The Bombay Stock Exchange and The National Stock Exchange alike. And in the year 2012 (2nd February, 2012 to be exact), UTV became a fully owned subsidiary of Disney South East Asia Pvt. Ltd with Ronnie continuing as the Managing Director.

Out of the total INR 2000 crores that Ronnie made from this deal; he spent around INR 800 crores investing in start-ups through Unilazer Ventures – a private equity venture fund of Mr. Screwvala. The list of companies he invested in, include –

  • Valyoo – that runs the e-commerce business, Lenskart
  • OnContract – an employee marketplace
  • com – an online career-counseling firm
  • Himex – an automobile analytics firm
  • in – a pet ecommerce site
  • Vellvette – an online cosmetics shop
  • IIMJobs – an online jobs portal
  • Mapmytalent – an online aptitude test site
  • 91Mobiles – a price comparison site

Along with some other offline ventures.

In the year 2014, Ronnie astonished everyone. He came up with an official announcement, confirming that he would be stepping down from the position of the Managing Director of UTV and quitting the company for good and that Siddharth Roy Kapur would be taking over as the new Managing Director of the company; despite the fact that his contract was to last a good 5 years hence.

Thus, marking the end of a remarkable voyage of Ronnie Screwvala & UTV!

SUBSIDIARIES & OTHER JOINT VENTURES

During their course of run, UTV formed a few joint ventures & subsidiaries; these include:

UTV Motion Pictures:  It was built-in in March 2007 and is also admitted to have traded in Alternate Investment Market (“AIM”) of the London Stock Exchange. The first film produced under this banner was “Dil Ke Jharoke Main.”

UTV TV Content Limited (UTV TV): – UTV TV was a wholly owned subordinate of UTV Software Communications Ltd and was launched in July 2007 with an intention to produce, exhibit and distribute television serials/programs.

IG Interactive Entertainment Limited (IG): – IG was registered in September 2004 with the intention of conducting Syndications, Film Acquisitions, and Distribution business in the UK.

UTV Communications (USA) LLC (UTV USA): – It was built in April 2004 with a parallel intention to that of IG i.e. carrying out syndications, film acquisitions, and distribution business, but in the United State of America (North America) and other surrounding territories.

First Future Agri and Developers Limited (FFADL): – First Future Agri and Developers Private Limited Company was incorporated in April 2008 and is again a fully owned subsidiary of UTV Software Communications Ltd. dealing in agricultural development.

UTV Global Broadcasting Limited (UGBL): –UGBL, started in June 2007, deals in the broadcast of satellite television channels across India wherein UTV Software Communications Ltd. holds 75% equity stake. As a whole, the company is a fully owned subsidiary of UTV Entertainment Limited (UETL) and Genx Entertainment Limited (Genx).

UTV Games Limited (UTV Games): – It was established in September 2008. A property of UTV Software Communications Ltd., UTV Games, carries the principal activity as of investment holding. It also holds a massive 80% of equity stake in True Games Interactive Inc. (an online gaming start-up Company based in California, USA).

UTV New Media Limited (UNML): – UNML is again, a fully owned subsidiary of UTV Software Communications Ltd. which was incorporated in September 2007. Its primary work is to conduct the development & maintenance of websites. It also holds the digital rights on acquisition and exploitation of mobile and digital platforms.

Smriti Irani Television Limited (SITL): – It is a 50:50 Joint Venture between UTV Software Communications Ltd. and Mrs. Smriti Irani. It was formed in December 2007 with the primary focus of television content production.

PHILANTHROPY

Ronnie, in the early days of UTV itself, formed a foundation – SHARE: Society to Heal Aid Restore Educate (SHARE) for the development of rural areas in Maharashtra.

Later, he changed the name to Swades (from former brand name SHARE). With this foundation of his, Ronnie intends to empower the communities by giving them the capability of transforming their own lives. So far, since the last five years, Swades has provided drinking water to over 39,000 people in 139 villages in rural Maharashtra.

As of today, Ronnie has amassed a whooping INR 2350 crores for his foundation from his own pocket, which is in parallel with the amount in donations.

ACHIEVEMENTS

  • Mentioned in the Esquire’s List of the 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century (2008)
  • Ranked 78th of the 100 most influential people in the world on the Time 100 (2009)
  • Listed amongst top 25 of Asia’s Most Powerful by Fortune Magazine
  • Named as the “Entrepreneur of the year” by Ernst & Young
  • Awarded the GQ “Philanthropist of the Year” for his work with the Swades Foundation (2014)