A recently launched exhibition at the Poster House museum in New York gives an insight into the golden age of Indian travel advertising with a focus on Air India’s famous mascot – The Maharajah.
Titled ‘Air-India's Maharaja: Advertising Gone Rogue’, the exhibition has on display some of the most iconic travel posters produced by the airline between 1946 and 1972.
Characterized by an oversized mustache, striped turban, pot belly, and curved nose, the Maharajah was originally designed in 1946 by Bobby Kooka and illustrator Umesh Rao for an inflight magazine. However, it soon became the face of the country’s national airline and eventually gained recognition as an international icon.
“The Maharaja's debut coincided with India’s birth as a newly Independent nation following the end of British colonial rule. As the actual maharajas were ushered out of their positions, the Air-India Maharaja became internationally (in)famous as one of the world’s least inhibited travelers, developed a reputation for daring and humor, and adopted different memorable personas in every destination,” a news release from the museum noted.
The airline commissioned artists and illustrators to customise their mascot depending on the flights destination. He was portrayed as a snake charmer in India, a monk in Rome, a lover boy in Paris, and even a playboy bunny in New York. While the airline meant it all in humor, some depictions of the mascot created controversy for being insulting or culture-shocking.
Curated by Carly Johnson, Sophia Williamson, and Sanjay Kapoor, in partnership with Kapoor Galleries and the Indo-American Arts Council, the exhibition traces the rise of the Maharaja in Air-India's posters, while simultaneously examining all the complexities that cane with it in that era of advertising.