Iconic Ads: Air India – Maharajah

Air India was the only international carrier from the “Land of the Maharajas”. So, the Maharajah represented graciousness and elegance

“We can call him the Maharajah for want of a better description. But his blood isn’t blue. He may look like royalty, but he isn’t royal. He is capable of entertaining the Queen of England and splitting a beer with her butler. He is a man of many parts: lover boy, sumo wrestler, pavement artist, a vendor of naughty postcards, Capuchin monk, Arab merchant…” said Sorab Kaikushroo (Bobby) Kooka, Commercial Director, Air India who created the Maharajah along with artist Umesh Rao of HTA.

A distinctive personality, impressive moustache, slightly rotund, sharp nose & the quintessential Indian turban gave him the regal look. The Maharajah’s famous moustache was modelled by Bobby Kooka’s friend, Syed Wajid Ali, a flamboyant, larger than life personality in demeanour and lifestyle.

His first appearance was in an inflight memo pad. He became Air India’s mascot for its promotions soon afterwards. His versatility, hilarious demeanour & quirky puns helped advertise with subtle humour.

India was renowned as the “Land of the Maharajas” at the time, and Air India was the country’s only international carrier, flying to various overseas destinations. So, for Air India’s letterhead, Kooka sought to design an artwork that represented graciousness and elegance.

Much of the credit of using the Maharajah for all promotions should go to Nargis Wadia who joined Air India in 1955. There was the brief to make him the airline’s face. “We’re getting ready to take off on a fresh flight. “Go make something,” was the command. Following that, a series of posters were created to identify Air India and present it as a world-class international airline.

She made many promotional materials, including posters that were appreciated the world over. The one for Paris, on the other hand, was sure to turn heads—literally. It was a bright, colourful avant-garde poster with typography influenced by the Crazy Horse Club’s cabaret performers. The Maharaja’s turbaned head crowns the letter ‘I ‘with beautiful legs in colourful leotards. It was a stroke of genius.

However, a parliamentarian took offence. “It cheapens the Air India Maharaja to portray him in this environment,” he added, describing the event as a prudish reaction. The problem was remedied by removing the mascot from the poster, which diluted its appeal.

The Maharajah can be anyone – a Russian Kalinka dancer. speedboat surfer in Australia; prey in the jungles of Kenya; a sumo wrestler in Tokyo.

The maverick Alyque Padamsee has contributed to the campaign when he was in HTA (JWT)

The Maharajah was taken out in 1989 due to socialistic inclinations. But with the huge backlash, he was soon brought back.

In 2017, he became a little trimmer. There was talk about replacing him with an Aam Aadmi. So the Maharajah became a slimmer, younger-looking man clad in jeans, jacket & engrossed in his mobile phone, but the moustache remained.

“I am overwhelmed by the support I have got for my original traditional attire & style. Just to clear the air. The young image is one of my many avatars to suit the occasion & activity. Yours truly … ” the mascot ‘tweeted‘ from Air India’s official handle

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