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Media moghul with a million dreams


He's ambitious. Extremely ambitious. ``It's not just enough to get there...You have to get there first,'' is his vision statement. In nine years, he has raised a company of five people into one of Asia's biggest multi- divisional, multi-media corporate house that has 880 employees.

The man who started United Television (UTV), the man who pioneered India's first cable TV operation way back in June '81 (he connected the whole of what was Bombay), founded United Studios, (today, it is one of South Asia's premier Studio and Animation complexes), brought home-shopping to India through TSN, who engineered one of India's first media `mergers and acquisitions' (UTV taking over Vijay TV), who went behind the scenes to do this all, is still not very satisfied,Ronnie Screwvala tells Sudhish Kamath, during his trip for the launch of the Discovery-Vijay tie-up.

HOW FREQUENTLY does he get to drop into Chennai? ``Three or four times a month,'' he says. That frequently? ``That rarely,'' he adds, wishing he could do better than that.

Where is the man we once used to so frequently watch on TV in the late Eighties and early Nineties-He hosted the `Contact' quiz show, remember? And the shows for children, `Young World' and `Magic Lamp'. He floated UTV with Rs.37,000 in 1990 with Devan Khote and Zarina Mehta.

Ronnie directed the popular ``Mashoor Mahal'' with Alyque Padamsee as additional director.

The critically acclaimed `Lifeline', the quizzes `Contact' and `The Mathemagic Show' were some of the best that came out of Doordarshan. But with Zee TV hitting the satellite skies in October '92, Ronnie suddenly found that there was a lot of work to be done. ``We produced ten programmes for Zee TV, the path- breaking `Saanp Seedi' for 520 episodes, `Chakravyuh', the talk show that debated serious issues to television for the first time, the drama series `Parivartan', the daily soap `Shanthi'-we came up with 720 episodes of that,'' he recollects his early days.

And it was time to move away from the camera to script UTV a `corporate avatar'. That was when he decided that it was time for mergers and acquisitions, at least at the regional level. Vijay TV was the first.

``There is going to be a serious shakeout in the next 18 months. There will be consolidations,'' predicts the media- moghul in his own right. Actually, he is also India's toothbrush moghul.

Lazer Brushes, that he floated, after completing his commerce degree with a humble Rs.80,000 is today India's largest toothbrush manufacturer, producing 50 lakh toothbrushes a month, supplied to the likes of Colgate, Johnsons and Ciba.

Any more pet projects, things that he misses? ``I am constantly evolving pet projects. I will never be satisfied. It would be a rare occasion, I'm too evolving to rest on my laurels,'' says Ronnie.

``But yes, I miss theatre, friendships that I once nurtured, the recreational aspects...Every year, I say `From next year, I will take time off...', but end up doing something else. But I guess there is a cost one has to pay for building up an organisation.''

``I envy those people who manage to do both, but who knows, it just might be that the grass always looks greener on the other side,'' the Chairman of UTV concludes.

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