Entering the media business was not a visionary thought that emerged early in my life. After my B.Com, I found myself at the same crossroad many of us do — should I create something new as an entrepreneur or proceed with a professional career? Those days, for a commerce graduate, chartered accountancy and MBA were prized possessions. Instead, I chose to go along a path I was already treading in some way — as a student, I had done a lot of theatre and voice-overs for commercials. But media meant just Doordarshan while film was a completely different world. There was zero inclination towards the media business but, thanks to my exposure to media and my confidence — theatre gives you tremendous confidence and frees you of inhibitions — there came about the idea of cable television.
In 1981, people all over the world had multiple choices for television channels and here we had just Doordarshan. When I talked about my idea of having an alternative channel, everyone said, “Fantastic idea, but we can’t do anything about it.” Nobody had the concept of satellite television — not even in the West, really — so anything you did in this sector would be a first. My breakthrough was the idea of offering video entertainment for our building. The society agreed and by default, I was a pioneer.
But it was tough because it’s a completely non-trodden path. I had no seed capital to expand — you sold the concept to the building and if more than 30% of the residents paid you in advance for the year, you had the working capital to start and install the CCTV in their houses. For an entire year, all we did was make demonstrations to all the large hotel chains and to about 300-400 building co-operative societies in Mumbai. We offered three hours of programming operating through a control room the residential complex would give us.
The cable business was a good learning curve. But honestly, although I was the pioneer, I had no vision. The biggest evidence of this is the fact that before I started UTV in 1990, I started a toothbrush company! When you’re starting up as an entrepreneur, you need to be opportunistic. Toothbrushes, for me, was opportunistic. It was an idea that occurred on a holiday with my father, who was working with a multinational called Smith & Nephew, which made Nivea cream and Wisdom toothbrushes. At the UK plan