Our broadcasting foray in 1998 incidentally happened when at a board meeting I expressed my plan of converting UTV into a B2C player. At that point, we had Dalip Pathak and Rajesh Khanna from Warburg Pincus on our board. Pathak said, “I just had breakfast with Vijay Mallya and he’s got this channel in the south called Vijay TV, a Tamil channel, and he wants to sell it. So, why don’t we go and meet him?” I remember arriving at 11 p.m. at his house, Mallya came in at 1 o’clock. Two hours, we were entertained and we had this conversation at 3 a.m., and we settled the deal. I didn’t understand the language but we understood the market since we were doing a lot of Tamil shows for Sun TV. Importantly, Mallya was willing to accept deferred payments over 36 months. For an entrepreneur at that stage, that really helped. The deferred payment meant I could get into the business the very next day and pay as I earned. So it was like buying a house on EMI. Vijay TV was the first business I bought.
However, there was also a déjà vu moment. Kalanithi Maran called and said, “You bought Vijay TV. You are our biggest competitor. How can I work with you on shows for Sun TV?” But, I have to say, to his full credit, we had a good 20-minute conversation. After that, he said, “Just tell me you will have complete Chinese walls and separate teams for both.” I said, “You have my word.” He said, “That is good enough, no problem.” We carried on and UTV had a phenomenal relationship with Sun even as we were competing with them.
A lot of hassled mums across the country must be wondering, “Who’s the chap that got Shin Chan and Doraemon into the country?” While the Japanese toons may have got on the nerves of parents, it was while doing Shaka Laka Boom Boom, a show for kids, that we realised there was still a gap that the likes of Cartoon Network, Pogo and Nickelodeon Disney, with their 10,000 hours of programming and deep pockets, had not filled. We realised that kids were watching Zee horror shows or Tom & Jerry. It sounded like an interesting opportunity because we were literally dubbing for every single of the six kids’ channels on air, and producing two kids’ shows. It