Air India’s new Maharajah is more roadside romeo than aam aadmi

He has obviously been inspired by Ranveer Singh’s roles in Band Baaja Baarat and Goliyon ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela. Why would I feel kindly towards an airline mascot who is busy playing games (or watching porn) on his smartphone, instead of paying attention to the traveller (ie me)?

Rajyasree Sen January 19, 2015 16:15:09 IST
Air India’s new Maharajah is more roadside romeo than aam aadmi

As a single, female traveller, the one thing I bank on while travelling on a flight – any flight – is a very low chance of getting molested, eyeballed or pick-pocketed on a plane and being left to protect myself. The airlines I choose to fly with have at least a veneer of being safe. You believe that the crew will protect you if something untoward happens. Take, for example, an airline that has a friendly, avuncular, older gentleman standing with his hands folded in welcome as a mascot: it just iterates the air of safety.

The Air India Maharajah exuded a feeling of friendliness and hospitality. Yes, he looked like a hybrid of Vinod Dua and Parikshit Sahni in fancy dress, but all in all, he seemed an affable, trustworthy sort. Frankly, he was the only thing going for Air India (and perhaps their hot meals). But the Maharajah has been killed off in one cruel move. In his stead, Air India has revealed their new mascot. And just the sight of him makes me want to stock up on pepper spray before boarding an Air India flight.

Air Indias new Maharajah is more roadside romeo than aam aadmi

Screengrab of ToI Story

Let me describe the new mascot to you. He still has a twirled moustache, but gone are the royal turban and robes. Instead, we have a dude with a man purse, threaded raised eyebrows, spiked hair, and a smartphone that has his full concentration. He has obviously been inspired by Ranveer Singh’s roles in Band Baaja Baarat and Goliyon ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela. Why would I feel kindly towards an airline mascot who is busy playing games (or watching porn) on his smartphone, instead of paying attention to the traveller (ie me)? He looks like the louts you see in the corner of Lajpat Nagar market, who wink at you and call out “Oye kya maal hai” in the hope of some attention.

The new mascot is worrying for reasons other than his roadside Lothario attributes. You see, this is what Air India thinks the “aam aadmi” looks like. Back in June 2014, it was reported that our Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met with aviation ministry heads and stated that the aam aadmi must replace the Maharajah as the mascot of Indian aviation. This was to help take forward Modi’s vision that the aviation ministry would formulate policies to make flying possible for the common man, and not just the rich.

That Air India officials think that the aam aadmi is what we in Bengali term a changra from Beckbagan in Kolkata, is very disconcerting. Going by the mandate laid down by Modi, it would have made more sense if the revamped mascot resembled Arvind Kejriwal or maybe even RK Laxman’s Common Man. Instead, his hair looks like he’s stuck his finger in an electric socket and the rest of him looks like he’s about to take his dog named Balwinder out for a walk.

According to news reports, an Air India official who was involved in this transformation of the Maharajah, said, “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”. Perhaps the new Maharajah will also be seen as a member of the Indian cricket team (Shikhar Dhawan?).

Now this isn’t the first time that the Maharajah will have separate avatars. Earlier, he’s been shown as a Frenchman hawking dirty pictures in Paris, a lifeguard checking out women in Sydney, dancing the can can in Paris. He’s hardly been fuddy duddy. But none of these past makeovers turned him sleazy, lecherous and fashion-challenged, all in one. The new Air India mascot is the boy your mother warned you of when you were young and impressionable.

Somewhere in mascot-land, you can imagine Appu of Appu Ghar, the Amul girl, Asian Paints’ Gattu and the dancing Nirma girl huddling in a corner and plotting how to excommunicate this horror of a mascot. To borrow Kiran Bedi’s words, looking at the new Maharajah, you can’t even say that he has a “beautiful face”.

I get that the prime minister and the aviation ministry want to make Air India more accessible, but you don’t do that by killing the only redeemable feature of Air India. According to the two people who created the earlier Maharajah, commercial director SK “Bobby” Kooka and JWT’s Umesh Rao, “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 was supposed to symbolise graciousness and high living. What’s wrong with that? I’d like a little graciousness and high living after shelling out thousands to get from one city to another.

Honestly, between Air India’s delayed flights and very grumpy crew, and the new and far-from-improved mascot, their statement to the press should be, “We don’t call him a Maharajah because we have no description for him. His blood is far from blue. He may look like a lout, and there’s a very high possibility that he is one”.

If this is a portrait of the common man, India is doomed.

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