The Air India Maharajah – to get a makeover, or not?

This last weekend, Twittersphere erupted in a lively discussion on whether or not the Air India mascot – The Maharajah – should be adapted for modern times. The discussion was sparked off by a report in the Times of India on Sunday, that the airline had indeed refreshed the portly Maharajah, bowing and welcoming guests, to a trendy version of the mascot, with spiky hair and a smartphone in hand. Unsurprisingly, a fair number of unkind comments erupted on Twitter:

While the online discussion ensued, Air India jumped in on Twitter, and clarified that the mascot is not being updated.

The confusion arose possibly due to the newspaper report being inaccurate, since the Air India website already states that multiple versions of the Maharajah exist:

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!

While Air India did well by jumping in on Twitter in the heat of the discussion, in hindsight, perhaps they learnt from the Twitterati that they shouldn’t fiddle with their brand icon. Yes, there’s a mandate to cut down on flab, when it comes to costs, and make the airline appeal to the masses in India. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that an iconic brand symbol should be toyed around with. Making the Maharajah contemporary doesn’t necessarily mean giving the man a spiked hairdo. Here’s what a graphic artist had to say about it, for example:

The genius of the maharaja design was that, yes, it did change, in novel ways, like the Amul girl. But it was always a strong icon. Now you have shitty loose linework, a completely bland pose, colouring that won’t print right in most instances. Just stupidity all round. And while it’s a cliche, surely we could come up with something more ‘Indian’ than jeans, t-shirt, waistcoat & spiky hair?


Imagine if the Singapore Girl changed the type of kebaya everyday — that wouldn’t sit well with those who love the brand, isn’t it? Air India should stick to the well-defined brand tenets about the Maharajah on their website:

…the millions of travellers whose lives he has touched far outnumber them. In fact, to them, the Maharajah with his inimitable style, charm and wit is a very real person. He’s almost like a friend to every Air India traveller. A friend who reaches out with warmth and hospitality, even to the farthest corners of the world.

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