In the ’70s, Grant Road East was still the city’s thriving movie district, where red-carpet premieres were de rigueur and the lure of star-spotting attracted hordes of fans. This gave a 10-year-old-boy, who lived on the first floor of a five-storey building adjacent to Novelty Cinema, an opportunity to make a quick buck. Once he had persuaded his parents for their permission, he started to sell tickets to the starry-eyed fans for a view of the actors walking the red carpet from the vantage point of his verandah. Even though his parents restricted the number of tickets to 15, this was one of the first entrepreneurial successes of Ronnie Screwvala, who in the following decades set up UTV Group, a media and entertainment behemoth.
Dream with Your Eyes Open, Screwvala’s first book, is peppered with a series of such anecdotes. However, by his own admission, he has chosen more episodes of his projects flopping and floundering than succeeding. “The more you talk about failures, people are likely to think it’s okay if your plan failed. For me, sharing my challenges and setbacks was the prime motivation for the book,” he says. The book, published by Rupa and priced Rs 500, will be available at the bookstores on April 2.
Seated at his office, Screwvala strongly advocates that the country should have more entrepreneurs. “After I stepped out of media and entertainment industry nearly a year-and-a-half ago, I have been looking at India’s entrepreneurial system and a couple of things came to my mind. Everyone assumes India is a very entrepreneurial country, but that’s not true. Many inherit family businesses, but there are very few first-generation entrepreneurs,” says Screwvala, who believes that the country needs nearly 15 million entrepreneurs of various scales. It is this belief that made the book possible. “Even today, 99 per cent of people don’t feel confident enough to start a business on their own. Therefore, they need to be inspired. So I wanted to write a book that has a narrative and shares my learnings,” he says.
After leading the hectic life of a media baron for over two decades, the process of writing the book gave him an opportunity to introspect. “It is not an autobiography. I had to select anecdotes that would help me explain the learnings I had. That’s why the book is not written in a chronological order,” he explains.
When he thought of the book nearly nine months ago, the first task before him was to crack a structure. “It was important for me to communicate that I started from a lower middle-class background. Otherwise, people see you for what you are today and not how you started. It was important for me to give that perspective and then, in the following chapters, talk about specific topics such as brand building, trends, scale,” says Screwvala, who roped in US-based Wynton Hall to help him decide the structure, tone and chapters of the book.Though the book ends with a summary of his second innings, Screwvala is not sharing the details yet.
While the book talks about his early theatre days and how his mother still prods him to return to stage, he does not see that happening anytime soon. “My initial sense of self-confidence and the ability to think on my feet came from theatre. But I can’t be part of a show unless I’m able to commit myself to it for a year,” he says.