Prasanna Prashad is watching a dance performance inside the New Jersey Exposition and Convention Center, while eating a plate of pav bhaji, a Mumbai street snack. Two couples dancing onstage abruptly come to a stop. Two men wearing thobes, a traditional Arab garment, suddenly burst in carrying laser-beam guns and begin spraying imaginary bullets. A troop of prancing men in SWAT vests emerges, cartwheeling, shooting, and pummeling until the “terrorists” fall. Then, the soldiers and their freed hostages line up, hands on their hearts, and adopt solemn expressions as the Star-Spangled Banner begins to play.
Prashad, who grew up in Hyderabad, a south Indian city, is growing anxious. She’s been waiting three hours to see Ram Charan, an actor from Tollywood, a film industry based in the south Indian states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. She did not particularly care that the event she was attending, Humanity Against Terror Charity Concert, was actually a Tollywood-Bollywood spectacle to promote Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“We came for the entertainment,” she says. Her son, in a brocade Nehru jacket, is curled up in the seat next to hers. “We don’t have evening plans so maybe we will have dinner here.” In one corner of the room, Bollywood Flavors Caterers is preparing a spread of Indian street snacks interspersed with tumblers of mango lassi.