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Air India’s Maharaja: A Regal Evolution with a Touch of Pakistan’s Influence

Birth of an Iconic Mascot

The distinctive persona of the Air India Maharaja, once a mere potbellied mascot, has journeyed through time, evolving with each destination and assignment. Conceived by Air India’s commercial director Bobby Kooka and art director Jal Cowasji, the Maharaja first materialized in 1946 as a representation of the comfort and luxury associated with flying the airline. The initial sketch, crafted by Umesh Rao of J Walter Thompson, portrayed him as an “oriental potentate” lounging on a magic carpet, exuding an air of elegance.

An Evolution of Features and Personality

The Maharaja’s appearance and character underwent a gradual transformation, mirroring his changing roles. His signature curling moustache, an iconic aspect of his image, found inspiration in Syed Wajid Ali, a prominent Pakistani industrialist and sports figure. Beyond his regal façade, the Maharaja stood as a symbol of Air India’s commitment to exceptional service rather than actual royalty. As Bobby Kooka aptly put it, “He might look like royalty, but he isn’t royal.”

Syed Wajid Ali at a family dinner. Courtesy: wiki

A Transition to Modernity

In 2015, the Maharaja embraced a more relatable image in response to the government’s push for accessible aviation policies. The maharaja’s appearance shifted to spiked hair, jeans, and sneakers, reflecting a transition to a more relatable and contemporary figure. His roles followed suit, ranging from sunbathing in Sydney to selling flowers in Europe, and even winning cricket matches in India.

Air Indias maharaja had a Pakistani inspiration
Potter and Potter Auctions/Gado/Getty Images

The Maharaja’s Global Adventures

As the Maharaja ventured across the globe, he became a conduit for satire and humor. His mischievous exploits included breaking a leg while skiing in Geneva, engaging in amusing antics like selling “porn” on the streets of Paris, singing alongside the Beatles in London, and even grappling with sumo wrestlers in Tokyo. These escapades often brought out both the best and the stereotypical attractions of various destinations, endearing him to audiences worldwide.

A New Chapter: Maharaja Emeritus

As part of Air India’s revamped branding strategy, the Maharaja assumes a fresh role in the realm of air travel. Now designated as “Maharaja Emeritus,” his appearances are tailored exclusively for premium class passengers and airport lounges. This transformation signifies a more exclusive association than ever before, embracing a refined and distinguished demeanor.

Anticipating the Future

As the Maharaja takes on this new post-retirement persona, the intrigue lies in how he will adapt to this refined role. Having entertained generations with his wit, charm, and sometimes politically incorrect antics, his journey from a humble memo pad sketch to an international icon continues to captivate hearts and imaginations. As Air India’s Maharaja navigates this next phase of his journey, passengers and enthusiasts alike eagerly await the unfolding chapters of his distinctive story.

Maharaja’s Legacy: Unveiling Air India’s Artistic Heritage

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