The Undoing of Vijay Mallya, the “King of Good Times”

Two decades after founding Kingfisher Airlines, the former billionaire beer baron still owes India $1.4 billion.

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Indian businessman Vijay Mallya smokes during a break in his extradition ruling at Westminster Magistrates Court on December 10, 2018 in London, England (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Mehr Singh


August 28, 2023


11 min

In a 2003 video, Vijay Mallya speaks to the camera as he walks around a lush Bangalore airstrip lined with 20 Airbus A380s, a shipment worth roughly $2.5 billion. He tells viewers about his latest business venture, Kingfisher Airlines, named after his highly profitable hops. 

Within a couple of years, Mallya would change Indian aviation forever. Passengers would eat lobster Thermidor instead of insipid sandwiches at 30,000 feet. The flight attendants were “fabulous,” almost “all models,” who wore red skirts instead of saris and tended to passengers’ every need. All this, with no extra costs. Mallya sold the modern Indian dream, and Indians bought it.

Once one of the richest men in India, Mallya now faces a slew of charges, and owes banks and former employees unfathomable sums while he lives as a free man. On the 20th anniversary of Kingfisher Airlines’ founding, we examine how, when it comes to the tycoon, the phrase “the higher they go, the harder they fall” rings true — while those who Mallya dragged down with him still seek justice.

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