Air India’s Maharajah, an iconic portly figure in regal garb and hands folded in namaskar, is being offloaded. Passengers are now being welcomed by a new and younger version of the mascot, sans turban with spiky hair, wearing jeans and sneakers. While the trademark twirling moustache remains, even that’s been cut down to size.
In his first meeting with aviation ministry heads on June 21, 2014 — less than a month after taking office — Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that the aam aadmi must replace the Maharajah as the mascot of Indian aviation. It came on the back of his emphasis that the ministry formulating policies to make flying within the reach of the common man and not limited only to the rich.
Since AI is symbolized by the Maharajah and could not be retired, the company has decided to tweak his image to make it more in tune with the changed times. “The new Maharajah is aligned with the modern times and with the new AI which is also trying to cut flab to become a lean commercial entity. The Maharajah now has a leaner, young, sporty and more dynamic look. He has made a big comeback in our ad campaigns. We are using 27 different pictures of the new Maharajah to showcase some of the destinations we fly to,” a senior AI official who handled the Maharajah’s makeover said. Among his avatars, the new Maharajah will be seen as a fighting fit member of the Indian cricket team wowing everyone with his stroke play.
The new look comes at a time when AI has joined Star Alliance and is now partnering airlines like Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa which are known for their energetic personalities. The new Maharajah, for AI, indicates that it is also giving up its old legacy image and moving on with the times.
Interestingly, the Maharajah was never supposed to be royal. JRD Tata’s handpicked commercial director SK ‘Bobby’ Kooka and Umesh Rao, an artist with J Walter Thompson Ltd, created him in 1946. The AI website quotes Kooka as saying, “We call him a Maharajah for want of a better description. But his blood isn’t blue. He may look like royalty, but he isn’t royal.”
“The Maharajah began merely as a rich Indian potentate, symbolizing graciousness and high living. And somewhere along the line his creators gave him a distinctive personality: his outsized moustache, the striped turban and his aquiline nose,” AI website says of the lovable figure, adding, “He can be a lover boy in Paris, a sumo wrestler in Tokyo, a pavement artist, a Red Indian, a monk… he can effortlessly flirt with the beauties of the world. And most importantly, he can get away with it all. Simply because he is the Maharajah!”
…until Air India stepped in to clarify