He describes himself as “the driving force behind UTV’s evolution into India’s first truly global media company.” In truth, Rohinton “Ronnie” Screwvala has very little to be modest about.
His achievements in building UTV from the ground up and his sometimes noisy exhortations about the need for greater professionalism in the Indian industry have earned him comparisons with Jack Warner and a place on the front cover of Newsweek’s Asian edition.
Born and educated in Mumbai, 45-year-old Screwvala is smart and worldly. He entered the entertainment business without family connections in the 1980s. He pioneered cable TV at a time when there was only a single pubcaster environment. And in the 1990s he turned his attention to Bollywood, first as a distributor, soon after as producer. Convinced of a need for innovation, Screwvala began by turning to marginalized directors and lesser-known talent.
Now the preferred Indian partner of three Hollywood conglomerates and sitting astride a true Bollywood major, Screwvala has, of course, become the mainstream. Today he is all for developing a “studio system,” by which he means keeping top talent under contract, matching them with good scripts and original stories and improving technical standards.
If that were not enough, the energetic Screwvala, who thinks nothing of taking a day trip to London — where he raised $70 million by floating the company on the AIM stock market — wants more.
Hugely ambitious, he is determined to make Indian entertainment a global force. “We are not producing many films which appeal to the global audience. To attract them, we must make films of multiple genres which have a sensitive narrative,” he says.
In the last year alone Screwvala has launched three animated films, bought videogame companies in the U.K. and Hong Kong and agreed to finance the next M. Night Shyamalan film after the Indian-born U.S. director had been dropped first by Disney and then by Warner.
In September, partnered with Malaysian satellite group Astro, he began a new assault on the established hierarchy in TV with the $80 million launch of generalist youth channel Bindass.