Storytelling has reached a new level: Ronnie Screwvala
New Delhi: Serial entrepreneur and former UTV head Ronnie Screwvala is all set to release the first film—Love Per Square Foot—from his independent production company RSVP.
The romantic comedy will premiere on Netflix in early 2018. Known for films like Barfi!, Rang De Basanti and Swades, Screwvala quit as managing director of Disney UTV (Walt Disney acquired controlling stake in UTV in 2012) in 2013 and shifted focus to his other ventures including Swades Foundation, his not-for-profit for empowering rural India and UpGrad, an online education platform.
In an interview on the sidelines of Big Picture Summit 2017 (organized by lobby group Confederation of Indian Industry), Screwvala spoke about his ventures and expectations from RSVP. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What made you come back to movies?
Movies are a hobby for me. I think storytelling has reached a new level where younger audiences are looking at something more real and contextual.
It is an exciting time to come back. I feel stories can be told differently. Audiences have evolved into a different space. What we did with Rang De Basanti and Swades years ago, that narrative and mould is ready to be broken again and I want to be a part of it.
What kind of content genres will RSVP explore?
Right now, we have 11 movie projects under development. Our vision is to break the projects into stories that must be told, stories that we would like to tell and stories that people go to movies for. If we can find great scripts that fit these three categories, we will go out and make a movie. The first film (Love Per Square Feet) is a sweet romantic comedy. We are doing a film on kabaddi, Uri attack, biopics on Shakuntala Devi, Ram Jethmalani and a few others. The funding will be from my own resources and budgets for our movies will range from Rs6-60 crore.
What are your expectations from RSVP?
I have zero expectations from RSVP. I just want to have fun and I want to impact people. I am not looking at building a media company by any stretch of imagination. I am not coming back into the movie business. When something becomes a business, 50% of your decisions are what you have to do and not what you want to do.
How do you define RSVP then, if not a business?
It is a passion project. I don’t want to lose money, of course. But to make it a business, I’ll need a plan. I’ll have to hire people in a very different manner, have accountability and will have to make certain number of movies every year. As of now, I have hired five people for RSVP and there won’t be a sixth.
How did the deal for Love per Square Foot happen with Netflix?
We engaged with Netflix to see what we can do that is disruptive and a first of its kind. I like doing firsts and Love per Square Foot will be the first ever Indian movie to premiere on a digital platform. Netflix saw the movie, loved it and proposed that we premiere it with them. It made sense for us as we could not have released the film to 190 countries theatrically.
What are the other things you are working on?
I have been out of the media and entertainment business for close to six years, ever since I sold UTV to Disney in February of 2012. My focus has been on online education and our not-for-profits. I am looking at building a phenomenal ed-tech company , an equally phenomenal sports company and a very strong NGO (Swades Foundation). Those are the three things I am manically focused on.
We are launching our e-sports portal (UCypher—India’s first e-sports league for online gaming). E-sport is the future and is going to be bigger than many other sports worldwide. In Korea and Japan, it has already overtaken football.
What do you like to watch in your free time?
I am more into reading than watching and my reading habit is broken up in four zones. I do a lot of deep reading of magazines and papers on education sector, social sector and overall how tech and data is changing the world. Then, there are scripts, one fiction book (which gets the lowest priority) and a non-fiction book. Between all this, I get to read about 10 hours a week and sometimes more.
Are you writing another book?
If I were to write another book (His first book titled Dream With Your Eyes Open was published in 2015), it will be on my wife Zarina and my experience in working in the social, rural and not-for-profit sector with our Swades Foundation and on the model that we are hoping to create. We would love to share our learnings, failures and successes with everyone.
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