Telly vision to cinema scope

Rohinton Screwvala a.k.a. Ronnie is founder chairman of UTV (United Television). Ronnie completed his initial schooling from Mumbai’s Cathedral and John Cannon School and graduated from Sydenham College of Commerce.
Ronhinton Screwvala Founder Chairman UTV

It was after this that he ventured into media. Ronnie also has a passion for theatre and as it little known, he has acted in several leading productions.

He was involved with the first organised cable venture in Mumbai. He started cable TV in June 1981 with Network, which was a three-hour video channel that showed movies. The cable channel started off by providing content to some homes in Maker Towers in the plush Cuffe Parade locality of Mumbai at Rs 200 per month.

Ronnie founded UTV in 1990 and gave the Indian audience some interesting TV game shows and gradually ventured into animated programmes for television churning out some of the most admirable cartoon characters in Balloo the bear and Uncle Scrooge.

However, Ronnie didn’t restrict his company to television alone. In 1998, UTV ventured into production of Bollywood movies. The company made its debut with Dil Ke Jharoke Mein starring Manisha Koirala. After a span of eight years and ten movies, UTV has churned out some of the most interesting films, one of them being Rang De Basanti, which incidentally is also Ronnie’s favourite.

In conversation with’s Rohini Bhandari, Ronnie speaks of it all….


Forthcoming Metro:
UTV’s forthcoming film Metro is a story of people living in the metro city of Mumbai. It is about what a city gives you and at the same time what it takes from you. The movie also deals with the different colours and standards of relationships in a city.

“We have already started shooting for Metro and intend to it up by October. However, the film will release only on 26 January,” says Ronnie. Sporting a smile, he says, “Even Rang De Basanti was released on 26 January in 2006 and it proved to be lucky for UTV, hence I chose the same date for Metro.”

“The film is being made with a budget of Rs 50 million but we will be spending an additional Rs 30 million only on marketing. These days it is very important to market your film and more importantly the mantra is to market it right. One has to spend half the production cost on marketing. In retrospect, I spent Rs 100 million to promote Rang De Basanti and look what it brought for UTV?” says Ronnie.

Competitive Market Scenario:

According to Ronnie, the movie business today is not about competition. “This is the time when everyone is looking at growing viewership by tapping new platforms. “Right now everybody is investing in new revenue platforms and is in turn looking at growing the market. So, when there is enough for everyone to do, where would there be any scope for competition?” he argues.

However, it cannot be denied that Adlabs has, in recent times, become aggressive. So much so that the company has signed movies in bulk with many directors. To which Ronnie responds nonchalantly, “I don’t see ourselves being less aggressive than Adlabs. I don’t know what bulk is and according to me it is a very negative word. Just, by the way, aggression does not equal success. There are a lot of aspects that go into success. We need multiple aggressive companies to grow the market.”

“We have a slate of about 12 – 18 movies with multiple directors. Our aim is to build a long term relationship with every director that we work with, so that we can do more and more movies with them,” he says.

Animated films:

“UTV is working on two animated films at present. However, we are not yet ready to announce them as these projects have a long gestation period,” he informs.

Distribution of films:

Ronnie says that he is not in the business of distributing movies, which are not produced by his company. “Basically we are in the distribution arena because we are in production. I am very clear that we would like to take the movies we produce worldwide on different platforms on our own and not through anyone else,” he says.

He however adds, “Occasionally we might acquire a nice movie that we like. Except for the Indian territory, we are distributing Don worldwide.”

So how much does distribution of films contribute to the turnover of UTV? “Today, the turnover of UTV from distribution of films is approximately 50 per cent in the domestic theatrical market; 25 per cent in the international theatrical market and the rest 25 per cent comes from all other rights. At the same time, I must also add that all this depends from movie to movie. There are some movies that don’t even travel internationally,” he says.

Overall Turnover:

Ronnie informs that for UTV, 45 per cent of the turnover comes from movies, another 45 per cent comes from television and the remaining 10 per cent comes from the special effects, animation and broadcasting business.

Recent Tie ups:

“Recently UTV tied up with DivX. They needed our software to promote their hardware. They were also looking for an on going up-gradation of the library and as we have an ongoing slate of releases, they considered us as the right partners for them. We also have the rights for 150 English films in India,” Ronnie says.

“Also Walt Disney acquired UTV owned Hungama TV for $ 30.5 million, apart from picking up a 14.9 per cent equity interest in UTV’s media arm. We are looking at a long term relationship with them, especially aligning our synergies in international markets in areas like home video and new media for our movie releases,” he adds.

Future Plans:

Ronnie shares, “UTV is 16 years old today. We have a successful IPO and listing on the Indian Stock Exchange. We, at UTV, want to build a studio model. We want to take it up step by step and nurture it. It’s not about mass. It’s about getting it right every time,” he reveals passionately.

He further informs, “UTV Software Communications Ltd entered into an agreement with Overbrook Entertainment Inc., for a business association to produce two full-length feature films the first one being a live active film in English Language and another one being a full length English animated film.”

Secrets about Ronnie:

A little known secret about Ronnie is that he owns India’s largest toothbrush manufacturing company, which produces over six million brushes a month for some of the well known brands in India.

Ronnie is also the founder of Share, which is a public service and charitable trust. Share, today, has multiple projects in rehabilitation, water harvesting in villages, women’s empowerment, prison intervention and sheltered workshops to train mentally challenged.

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Rohini Bhandari

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