Rohinton Soli Screwvala, better known as Ronnie Screwvala, is an Indian entrepreneur. He is the pioneer of cable television in India and is considered one of the most influential businessmen in India. He has been one of the key Indian investors in early-stage tech and new economy companies. Being the jack of all trades, Screwvala is the founder of UTV Software Communications, chairperson and co-founder of upGrad, movie producer, philanthropist, author, and one of the biggest names in film production and distribution.
Ronnie Screwvala was born on Saturday, 8 September 1956 (age 65 years; as of 2021) in Bombay, Maharashtra (now called Mumbai). He did his schooling at Cathedral and John Connon School, Mumbai, and graduated from Sydenham College. While studying at university in Mumbai, Screwvala wanted to become an entrepreneur; however, his parents had planned a different thing for him. They wanted him to pursue accountancy in Britain. Talking about his passion for the same in an interview, he said,
Everyone [in India] believed that you only wanted to be an entrepreneur if you didn’t get a good job,”
He seemed interested in theatre and drama, while he was in school and also did plays professionally with Bombay Theatre, as a hobby.
Height (approx.): 5′ 11″
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Parents & Siblings
Ronnie Screwvala belongs to a Parsee family. He comes from a humble background with a lower-middle-class living situation. His father used to work as an executive at the British firm J L Morrison and Smith & Nephew. His parents now live in a separate apartment, right below his apartment. In an interview, while reminiscing the old times, he said
My parents used to play cards on Saturday . . . all the friends would come across. So it was like one massive Parsee gathering . . . and the value system kind of creeps in.”
Wife & Children
Ronnie got married to Manjula Nanavati, daughter of Suresh Nanavati, who is the chairman of Nanavati Hospitals in Mumbai. The couple welcomed their daughter and named her Trishya Screwvala. Trishya runs a not-for-profit organisation, The Lighthouse Project, and got married to sports commentator Suhail Chandhok on 19 January 2017. Ronnie and Manjula got divorced, after which Screwvala got married to Zarina Mehta. Zarina is the co-founder of UTV and co-trustee of their philanthropic foundation, The Swades Foundation.
Ronnie Screwvala belongs to the Parsee community and follows Zoroastrianism. In an interview, he talked about his views on the Parsee community and said,
Parsee culture is definitely one of strong business acumen, high ethics, and an element of philanthropy,”
Breach Candy, South Mumbai, Maharashtra
Ronnie Screwvala is an astute entrepreneur and has quite a lot of feathers in his cap. He began by starting a company ‘Laser,’ which manufactured toothbrushes, which is now the largest in the country and produces around 6 million brushes per month, for most of the leading toothbrush brands in India. He pioneered home shopping in India with Tele-Shopping Network (TSN) and is also known for introducing cable television in India in 1981. He went ahead and found South Asia’s premier studio and animation complex, the United Studios.
Screwvala incorporated the UTV Group in 1990 and diversified it into a leading movie studio, a Games Studio, and a creative content company. It went public and got listed on the stock exchange in 2005. In 2008, The Walt Disney Company picked up a 15 per cent stake in UTV Global Broadcasting for Rs. 118.98 crores, which made it the largest foreign investment in India followed by the acquisition of 32.1 per cent in the parent UTV Software Communications Ltd for Rs 805.05 crore. In the year 2012, Screwvala divested the entire company to the WDC. This made him a global name in the Media industry.
The Swades Foundation
Ronnie is the co-founder of Swades Foundation, along with his wife Zarina. The purpose of the initiative is to uplift a million people out of poverty, where the main focus is on livelihood opportunities. It is currently active in Maharashtra, in a 3000 sq km concentric geography in Raigad – in 2000 villages working on water, sanitation, health, and education.
Screwvala took an opportunity to explore the uncharted areas of the education sector and co-founded the largest online education company in India, called upGrad in 2015. It is a higher-education learning platform that provides programs in the areas of Data Science, Technology and Management to college students, working professionals, and enterprises. upGrad is in association with universities like IIT Madras, IIIT-B, BITS Pilani, MICA, Cambridge Judge Business School Executive Education, etc.
Screwvala cofounded USports with a focus on three areas, Kabadi, ESports, and Football. USports has an initiative called UDreams, which helps in the professional training of children in these sports to enable them to perform at the international level.
Unilazer Ventures was incorporated by Screwvala as a private equity company that invests in the Indian new economy companies and start-ups, with early-stage investments with a significant minority stake that brings his entrepreneurial skills to the companies. Unilazer has invested in a wide arena of industries ranging from e-commerce to the leading online eyewear company in India, Lenskart, and from AI and Bots to agriculture and to micro-housing finance.
Screwvala re-entered the media and film industry with RSVP Movies. The main aim is to focus on developing own scripts.
Screwvala has produced dozens of mainstream blockbusters, indie movies across all genres, and contemporary Bollywood classics. Some of these worth mentioning productions of Ronnie include Swades (2004), Rang De Basanti (2006), Chup Chup Ke (2006), Jodha Akbar (2008), Paan Singh Tomar (2010), Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019), and The Sky is Pink (2019).
Ronnie has also produced some successful television shows such as Shanti (1994-98), Shaka Laka Boom Boom (2000-04), Khichdi (2002-04), Shararat (2003-07), Hero – Bhakti Hi Shakti Hai (2005-07), etc.
Ronnie Screwvala is an author and has written books like Dream with Your Eyes Open: An Entrepreneurial Journey, Skill It, Kill It: Up Your Game and Dream with your Eyes Open 101: Practical Questions Every Entrepreneur Must Ask. Screwvala has shared his insights, his experiences and wisdom through these books.
Not only confined to books. Ronnie has also tried to impart some of his knowledge to the youth through his articles like ‘The growing realization of self-reliance in India is a welcome change, but not without the Triple E Highway – Education, Entrepreneurship & Employment’, ‘Changing Perceptions of Online Learning,’ and ‘Live life on your own terms and other lessons for my daughter.’
- Ronnie Screwvala’s new film, Captain India, gathered controversy when it was revealed that another movie, Operation Yemen, was based on the same plot and was in the making.
- Ronnie Screwvala got engaged in a controversy with PVR when PVR filed a complaint against him to SEBI, alleging that Ronnie had tweeted false information against multiplexes, which resulted in the downfall of their share prices. Ronnie, on the other hand, replied to this allegation by stating,
Just read a press article about some complaint filed by PVR before SEBI in response to our complaint to the CCI (Competition Commission of India). I stand by all stated on our complaint to the CCI and there is nothing slanderous or malicious. The discriminatory action of the multiplexes in giving preferential treatment to the Hollywood movies as against the Marathi, Hindi and Indian movies, or why consumers are forced to sit through 15 minutes and more of advertising even though they paid for their ticket, is still unexplained by the multiplexes and this is not in the interest of the nation or consumers. And till the penny drops with the multiplex owners that the ultimate risk takers are the content creators and they are only a service provider and so cannot take the lion’s share of the revenue it would be fair to state that their action is in collusion and to divide and rule. Time is running out.”
On March 19, Ronnie tweeted that multiplexes unfairly charge Virtual Print Fee (VPF) from producers and earn a handsome amount of 400 crores approximately in a year.
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- Named on Esquire’s List of the 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century
- Ranked 78 among the 100 most influential people in the world on the Time 100 (compiled by Time Magazine, 2009)
- Nominated for BAFTA Award for Best Non-English Film – Rang De Basanti
- Won Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment at National Film Awards (2007) for Rang De Basanti
- Won Best Film by Filmfare Awards (2007) and IIFA Awards (2007) for Rang De Basanti
- Won Best Film by Filmfare Awards (2009) and IIFA Awards (2009) for Jodha Akbar
- Won Best Film by Filmfare Awards (2013) and IIFA Awards (2013) for Barfi!
In the IIFL Wealth Hurun India Rich List 2020, Ronnie Screwvala stood at 188 rank with a wealth of INR 6,500 Crore.
- Ronnie Screwvala is a dog lover and has a pet dog named Sprite, a Labrador.
- A little known fact about Screwvala is that he started a theatre production company and won a role as a teenage presenter on India’s sole national TV station.
- Ronnie suffered a loss of Rs. 30 crores with his investment in a film that was supposed to be an action-packed, modern-day superhero saga, starring Vicky Kaushal. The movie required huge funds and in the producer’s opinion, it would not earn those back even in the non-covid times, so he decided to put it on hold.
- He played notable roles in Shakespeare’s Othello and Death of a Salesman as he was always intrigued with acting and drama.
- His house has a large carved chessboard, and he enjoys playing chess with Bollywood star Aamir Khan. Speaking about the same in an interview, Ronnie said,
I know how to play chess. Occasionally my daughter and I would do that, or when Aamir comes over, he and I play, But I haven’t yet beaten Aamir, so that’s a bad thing.”