The Great Drug Dealer

Bollywood actor and former member of the Indian Parliament Amitabh Bachchan will play drug dealer Meyer Wolfsheim in the upcoming film version of The Great Gatsby.Bollywood actor and former member of the Indian Parliament Amitabh Bachchan will play drug dealer Meyer Wolfsheim in the upcoming film version of The Great Gatsby.CANNABIS CULTURE – It’s been announced that prominent Bollywood actor and former member of the Indian Parliament Amitabh Bachchan will play the pivotal role of Meyer Wolfsheim in the upcoming 3D version of The Great Gatsby.

Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) and starring Leonardo di Caprio, the film is now shooting in Australia and is expected to be released in November 2012.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel set in New York City in the 1920s, is the first modern novel about a drug dealer. Gatsby is a man of wealth by secret means, who speaks of “a little business on the side … a rather confidential sort of thing.” He says outright, “I used to be in the drug business,” and offers the narrator Nick a piece of the action in exchange for setting up a meeting with his cousin Daisy.

After Gatsby sends a servant to mow Nick’s lawn in anticipation of the meeting, Nick tells him, “The grass is fine.” “What grass?” asks Gatsby, before saying, “Oh, the grass in the yard.”

Wolfsfheim, Gatsby’s business associate and friend, is modeled on Arnold Rothstein, the first international drug smuggler and gambler who famously fixed the 1919 World Series and got away with it. Rothstein was depicted as “The Brain” in Damon Runyon’s stories (Guys and Dolls) and a “fictional character of the same name based on the real person” is played by Michael Stuhlbarg in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.”

That an Indian actor has now been chosen to play the role is interesting, considering the way that foreigners are vilified in American films and the way that drugs are depicted as foreign to Western culture. In the book, after Wolfsheim is introduced, Nick hears a group of girls singing “Sheik of Araby” on the street. Arabs were associated with hashish, and sheiks with mysterious and powerful men.

Rothstein smoked opium in his youth, and understood its allure. After the US Supreme Court ruled in 1921 that the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 forbade doctors from prescribing opiates to addicts, Rothstein applied his international liquor-smuggling expertise to the drugs he knew would be in illicit demand. By the mid-1920s, “he was in sole control of the lucrative black market in heroin, morphine, opium, and cocaine, and had set up a sophisticated system of political payoffs, extortion, and collusion,” writes Douglas Valentine in The Strength of the Wolf (Verso, 2004).

The year after The Great Gatsby was published, Rothstein risked exposure by bailing out two employees and became a target of investigation. He was shot in the groin in his hotel at New York’s Park Central Hotel on November 3, 1928 and died he next day. The case was never solved, and Rothstein’s underlings Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Louis Buchalter divvied up his empire.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s investigation into Rothstein’s trafficking and distribution empire “triggered a series of developments that in turn fostered national security and law enforcement policies and practices that endure into the 21st century.” (Valentine).

Now in 3D.

Ellen Komp is an activist, writer, and regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website VeryImportantPotheads.com and blogs at Tokin Woman.

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    I just noticed that the 1974 film version of Gatsby starring Robert Redford changed the line to, “I was in the drug STORE business.” Tsk, tsk. It has the exchange about the grass, but instead of saying “The grass in the yard,” he says, “It’s fine.” Hopefully the new version will be more true to the book.

    I see there was a 2000 TV movie version starring Mia Sorvino as Daisy and Paul Rudd as Nick Carroway. That might be worth a look. Rudd is currently starring in “My Idiot Brother” as a pothead who comes back to infuse some soul into his family. Even People magazine says you’ll leave feeling high on life.