Air India’s Maharaja – A Cultural Icon Going Rogue Exhibition
Air India is a fixture for those of us that travel overseas to and fro from India. Love it or hate it, it is always one of the airlines under consideration, recently more for the price than for the service unfortunately, but it seems like better days are in the making for the airline. Regardless, when I started to see ads popping up for an exhibition of Air India’s Maharaja advertising from over the years at Poster House in Manhattan, I had to go and check it out.
Poster House is a museum for – you guessed it – posters, and it is a small intimate space with exhibits such as the Air India Maharaja one, which are a great commentary on the cultural impact of posters. A number of the posters that looked like permanent exhibits were as interesting as they were unexpected, and made me think of posters in a whole new light, especially given I started building a collection of posters just this year after being given a couple at the Musuem Mile Festival earlier this year.
The posters of Air India’s Maharaja focus on Rogue’s Gallery, a catalog published by Air India of its advertising featuring the Maharaja – aka the Rogue – from 1946 to 1972. As the Poster House website explains – “Conceived in 1946 by Bobby Kooka and illustrated by Umesh Rao, the Maharaja was initially designed for an inflight memo pad. Characterized by his oversized mustache, striped turban, corpulent belly, and aquiline nose, the mascot would go on to become the face of the airline and propel the company to the forefront of advertising genius in the mid-20th century.”
The exhibition space itself was not very large, and I got very lucky to have it pretty much to myself when I was there.
The Maharaja clearly had a knack to blend into the various countries he visited!
I really liked the commentary that was given to provide a context to each of the posters, including the tongue in cheek inspiration derived from very iconic well known cultural references, such as this one –
And then there is this for France –
And here is the Maharaja getting inspired by Ali Baba –
And the inspiration for Maharaja’s shikar (hunting) in India –
This one for Paris – which seems to have been a favorite destination – seems to have created some heartburn regarding the portrayal of Paris with the Maharaja’s face in the dot above the i, so it was reissued without the Maharaja in it, and went on to win first prize at the Communication Arts Guild Awards.
This mermaid one had two versions, one with the Maharaja rescuing a mermaid, and there was reference to one in which the mermaid rescued Maharaja on one of his many adventures –
So I did get a poster of the Air India Maharaja to add to my newly started collection. Now I just need to move into a larger apartment to put up all these posters that I am suddenly so devoted to collecting!
As a PS, I visited India recently, and took a couple of Air India flights. The Air India Maharaja is still going strong, from seating to tickets to flight announcements –
The nicest part of an Air India flight I took was the crew. My mother let it slip that I was in India to celebrate a milestone birthday, and before we knew it the crew had brought me a cake to celebrate my birthday with a personalized message from the Air India family as you can see below, and all of them sang for me in the middle of the plane! Though the travel on Air India had a few hiccups as they are transitioning to a private airline, this was by far one of the most memorable birthday celebrations I had. #gottaloveairindia