Last week, when several major newspapers published a relatively recent photograph of Dawood Ibrahim, many were astounded. What they saw was a distinctively aging mafia boss with an ebbing hairline and without his assertive moustache. Simply put, he didn’t look like the imposing mobster they had seen in photos much of their lives. If a photograph had ever come close to demystifying a man, it was this.
Dawood will turn 60 in December. But over the decades, India and the rest of the world had got used to watching a much younger Dawood, mastermind of the 1993 Mumbai blasts that killed 257. He never seemed to age. Back in the mid-1980s, when Sharjah was cricket’s most coveted desert outpost, a couple of his photographs were widely splashed in magazines. One of them showed the mafia boss standing next to a popular Bollywood hero. The other one captured him in a yellow T-Shirt making a phone call from a landline. These apart, an overwhelming majority of other snapshots, were taken at least 20 years ago.
In these photos, Dawood is either dressed in a neatly tailored suit or sports a swish jacket. His hair is always carefully groomed.The distinct droopy moustache is groomed.In some of them, India’s most-wanted is in tinted shades smoking a cigarette or making a phone call. In almost all pictures, Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar looks a man of power, someone in control of the world he inhabits.
Images are a powerful weapon in battles to manipulate public perception. And a top clinical psychologist, who has interviewed criminals in Tihar jail for over a decade, says Dawood’s photographs are in situations that the mafia boss would like the world to see him: In his youthful prime. In command.
“Heads of big gangs or major crime syndicates become image conscious once they cross a certain threshold. After a while, money ceases to be a motivator or turn-on. But a certain image gives them a high. Consequently , they are often acutely conscious of the image they project,” says clinical psychologist Rajat Mitra. Could it be that by regularly publishing pictures taken in the 1980s and 1990s due to lack of better options, the media inadvertently contributed to the image management of this crime syndicate boss and aided in the construction of his man-in-control persona?
Says a former intelligence officer, “The media should publish Dawood’s more recent photos for a couple of reasons. First, people should be able to identify him, if required.Second, seeing Dawood with receding hair and sans moustache helps demystify the man and the aura built around him.”