January 2023 marked two milestones in the colourful, glittering life of Nari Hira—bossman of Magna Publishing Co. Ltd. His birthday on the 26th. And grand celebrations on the 28th, to mark 50 years of his iconic film magazine—Stardust. He remains my first and only boss—five decades after we launched Stardust with a bang, and changed film journalism in India forever.
It was pretty thrilling to be on stage with Mr Hira (I still call him that), as a parade of Bollywood stars came up to receive their awards. Some of the oldie goldies boldly shared how some scoop had upset them. Others, like Anil Kapoor, expressed gratitude for the support extended during their struggling years. The younger lot coyly confessed that their mothers forbade them from devouring Stardust when they were schoolkids. All this was music to my ears! I chuckled at the memory and then reminded myself that 50 years of publishing existence was truly a big deal!Nari Hira had audaciously broken every known rule at the time and swiftly become the game-changer and market leader.
Since I left Stardust more than 40 years ago, there is brain fog when I look back on those crazy days of working like a beast from what was popularly called the ‘Çat House’ by fans of Neeta’s Natter, with the signature sign-off of the most read column in the subcontinent—Meeeeeooow! Was Neeta my pseudonym? I’m not telling! But running into a few stalwarts from my zamana—like Shatrughan Sinha, whom we had nicknamed Shotgun Sinha, was a delightful experience.
It was when Rekha—the eternal diva—arrived, that fans went into a frenzy, and Mr Hira’s eyes finally lit up! At 68, Rekha continues to break hearts and diva goals. Mr Hira turned to me and declared triumphantly, “A pretty good turn out!”
I was happy for him. Stardust was his baby, and he did succeed in creating an iconic brand that had loyal followers across the world. The scene has changed dramatically, of course. Not that the changes bother the bossman. He knows he is sitting on a goldmine—those archives are worth a lot more than Adani shares at the moment. But, when I ask him what he plans to do with the treasure, he swiftly changes the subject and mentions a top actor’s “bad breath’’, adding, “I bet he doesn’t brush his teeth”. I want to hug him in that instant—but control the urge. At 86, Mr Hira’s sharp, vitriolic observations and asides are as I recall them from five decades earlier. Nothing misses his eye or ears.
Nari Hira’s has been a charmed life, starting out as an advertising guy in sharp Savile Row suits (he hired me as a junior copy writer at a princely salary of Rs 350), and subsequently going on to establish a media empire with a bouquet of glossies—some successful, some not. He pioneered video films, mainly for adult consumption, decades before Sunny Leone came on the scene. In a way—he has seen it all and done it all, as a gutsy publisher who broke several moulds. We have remained friends throughout, and that is a huge thing for me—as I hope it is for him, too!
When I was asked to say a few words, I gushed, “Stardust was not a job—it was a love affair.” It is true! Mr Hira inspired an entire generation of reporters and feature writers, who went on to chart new territories with other media houses. But Magna was where it all began—as Hira’s devoted chelas and chelis.