‘Unless we fix rural India, we will not grow at a desirable rate’

Ronnie Screwvala
Ronnie Screwvala, 56, CEO and Founder Chairman, UTV Group
Photo: Arun Sehrawat

For someone who’s been a pioneer in media and entertainment, why did you decide to invest in rural entrepreneurship?
Firstly, I want to clarify that social entrepreneurship is different from social work in rural India, as social entrepreneurship is for profit. My key reason for investing there is that with over 50 million young Indians needing jobs in the coming years, India will have to move quickly to small businesses. Young entrepreneurs will be forced to enter greenfield areas, which have less competition, but pioneering opportunities.

The one thought that will change the way of life in rural India is… 
There is no “one” thing at all. Unless we fix rural India and take its 600-700 million people to a higher base of living, India will not grow at a desirable rate. Still, if you insist on the “one thought”, it would have to be “empowerment” and that means a regular and sustainable opportunity for everyone in rural India to have a livelihood.

Can you explain the business model of your plan?
See, if it’s social entrepreneurship, it needs to be “for profit” and so like any business, it needs initial funding. The general perception is that the “rural” does not get funded easily and most want to fund e-commerce, etc, but that is already changing and there are many special funds just for social entrepreneurship.

You made UTV one of the most visible brands in media and entertainment. Could you tell us how the idea of venturing into this field came to you?
Whatever has happened in entertainment in India is still just the tip of the iceberg. My entry into this field stemmed from the creative ability to lead change in these areas as well as building a diversified brand. UTV is such a visible brand today because we focussed on branding UTV in each segment.

DisneyUTV made what is probably the best Indian animation film — Arjun: The Warrior Prince. Where do you think Indian animation is headed?
I personally greenlit Arjun some four years ago, as I believed it was a phenomenal coming together of story, myth and brilliant animation. I think animation in India will continue to face challenges because (a) Indians are not used to this kind of visual storytelling (except the most recent generation); (b) for most, animation still means cartoons for kids, whereas actually it’s for the whole family; and (c) India has been relegated to a outsourcing hub for animation. Creativity has not really emerged. Another problem is that our audiences do not want to pay for content. Only 5 percent of all audiences who watch movies actually pays for it; the rest opt for pirated copies or watch it on TV eight weeks after the release.

Kaushik Kashyap is an Assistant Editor with Tehelka.


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