The Exchange Season 1 Review – Strong feminist commentary marks Kuwait’s maiden Netflix feature

Season 1

Episode Guide

Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 -|Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 -|Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 -|Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 5 -|Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 -|Review Score – 3.5/5


Kuwait has finally made its mark on the world stage with The Exchange, an exciting, fun-filled six-part series set in the ‘80s. It tells the story of two women – cousins Farida and Munira – stepping into the male-dominated world of the stock market and leaving their mark.

All of this happens at the precipice of the US-Iran conflict and Saddam Hussein’s incredible retaliation, although it does not play a big part in the main narrative. Instead, the central conceit of The Exchange lies in the recontextualization of the position of women with the changing paradigms of feminism in the workforce. The makers have done a terrific job of singularly establishing their narration in female empowerment without taking a radical approach.

Most projects these days that feature feminist commentary this heavily go overboard with the messaging. So much so, that it opens the project to polemic disdain and scathing criticisms. No one likes to see a one-sided depiction of any subject matter. Such representations also bring the feminist movement under the radar, making it go through unnecessary litmus tests of gender equality. But The Exchange suffers no such pitfalls. In fact, prospective filmmakers can learn from the people behind the series for such an unexpected and bold characterization of the two ladies.

There are twin battles that both women fight. One is, of course, at the Kuwaiti stock exchange. And the other is a personal battle at home that they fight. The perception is decisively turned against Farida and Munira. But the two women showcase individual brilliance and collective resilience, even when it does not suit them, to wither the storm. While either of the representations is not satisfactorily layered, the fresh treatment of routine setups like family dysfunction gives viewers something to look forward to. The dresses, make-up, and playful personification of things unsaid through dialogue adds to the show’s appeal.

Kuwait’s cultural flavour is deeply embedded into the visuals. After a while, we become accustomed to seeing the white kaffiyeh sitting comfortably on male heads and the thawb freely flowing sideways. That element might be the distinguishing factor for the show but it is not something singular that ends up defining it. There is a deep correlation between world events and how they shape the journey of the two women. It can be seen as The Exchange’s attempt to simplify and demystify how prices of stocks move up and down. The stigma attached to that takes a heavy emotional toll on many investors. But through various instances, like the one about the bombing of the oil tanks and the fall in prices of beef affecting that of pork and sheep subtly prove that point.

Each episode sees the narrative move closer to explaining the chaotic opening sequence, where Farida and Munira stand amidst heavy water sprinklers at the exchange. At just six episodes long, the storytelling is cut short on that front. We do not get a lengthy, emotional peek into either household or get time for exposition about how women are perceived at a granular level. While Farida’s main sentimental pipeline is through Jude, her daughter, Munira stays closer to Saud from work. It is a creative choice that is birthed out of compulsion but in hindsight, works pretty well.

The style of the storytelling is such that you mostly breeze through the episodes. A peppy background score keeps the spirits up, and the events happen in such a manner that does not require much support from other elements to evaporate gainly in the viewer’s mind. The tone is lighthearted leaning towards comedy rather than serious drama. That, however, does not mean that The Exchange lacks moments of intense dialogue. Farida’s coming-of-age arc is especially characterized by the rough moments she faces against everyone else, including Munira.

Rawan Mehdi, who plays Farida, commands more of the screen time than Mona Hussain (Munira). Hers is the difficult task to hold your gaze in moments where all that you have to connect with is Farida’s feeling of inadequacy. Mehdi does so with aplomb. Her command over body language and facial expressions in the closeups is very impressive. She has an innocent disposition and that definitely adds to the intrigue of Farida. Hussain’s job is in stark contrast to Mehdi’s. Since Munira is assertive, bossy, and fearless, we get a different slice of acting from her, which is equally impactful.

The Exchange makes us intrigued about the line-up of movies and shows coming from Kuwait. Their maiden offering globally is bound to get interest from a large audience base.

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  • Verdict - 7.5/10

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