He is the final word at Reliance Entertainment, and at present is the Group Chief Executive Officer of Content, Digital and Gaming. His company had two big event films Sooryavanshi and ’83 ready for release in March and April 2020, but with COVID-19 hitting the entertainment industry hard, Shibasish Sarkar reveals the change plans for the releases and also discusses how the work culture and the economics of filmmaking will change post the Coronavirus lockdown. Excerpts of FilmiBeat‘s chat with Shibasish Sarkar.
When do you think normalcy will be return post the COVID-19 lockdown?
We are all living in an uncertain world. In every country it is going to take not less than six months for things to start looking up. If you ask me from industry perspective, heath crisis should start tapering from June but for cinemas to open and for people to come back to cinemas with certain level of confidence will take two or three months more. I sense some kind of normalcy to return by September and I feel cinemas may open in June or July too.
But you had two big films like Sooryavanshi and ’83 ready for release?
We have two big releases – Sooryavanshi and ’83 – and we will definitely wait for some kind of normalcy to return, not only in the domestic market, but also in big overseas markets like USA and the Middle East. Between North America and the Middle East they account for close to 70 percent of our overseas revenues. Also once the lockdown opens,we have close to seven to 10 days’ work left for Sooryavanshi and at least a month’s post production work left for ’83 .
So, will the release be around Diwali 2020?
We will not put a date and my personal thought is that we will not wait for a big or small date either. The time when we find there is normalcy restored, we will do a tight promotion and release the films.
But the work culture will certainly change for good post Coronavirus..
Not sure whether it is good or bad, but it will be different. First thing, we will have to be ready to work with much lesser unit sizes like European units, with limited crew numbers on the sets. We have to design project taking those models as an example. At the end of the day shooting floors need to be with much lesser number of headcount. Not just social distancing and hygiene, there will be mandatory guidelines which the government will ask companies to follow.
Has Coronavirus changed the whole economics of filmmaking?
It will change. Once the industry comes back to normal, one has to ascertain what is the “New Normal.” We will need to ascertain how much impact there will be on the box office, television revenues, etc. It is expected that at least the next 18 to 24 months there will be an impact on revenues as well as liquidity and cash flow. So definitely new productions and budgets need to be designed accordingly based on new realities. I will not be surprised if lesser number of films are made in future than the 200-odd Hindi films produced every year. Also probably some films will be made for straight to digital release. The films made for real big screen experiences will only go towards theatrical release.
Are cinema halls going to rework the seating arrangement and follow the WHO guidelines?
Yes. They will need confidence building measures, on their own or as per government mandates. Whether they need to keep certain alternate seats vacant for maintaining distance, deep cleaning of seats, ensuring audience to wear masks, spreading out or having lesser number of shows so as to spread out audiences, we will expect various new changes in the coming days.
What happens to the China market, which is big for Reliance Entertainment?
Cinemas in China are expected to open sometime in July 2020. Currently for Super 30, we have applied for a censor certificate there. Once the censor is cleared we can fix the release date. Subsequently we are also planning to apply one for Saand Ki Aankh.
In the end, it is all going to depend on how the market behaves post COVID-19. We are optimistic that over a period of time, the audience will come back and the industry will revive and thrive.