The drama series “The Exchange” is Netflix’s first production out of Kuwait, and the gleam that is synonymous with Netflix production nowadays is immediately visible. The show nicely recreates Kuwait in the 1980s and presents the story of two competitive cousins, Farida and Munira, as they become the first women to work in the male-dominated stock exchange. “The Exchange” is overall quite interesting and satisfying to watch, even though some of its moments look over-dramatized, but the final effect does deliver.
‘The Exchange’ Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
“The Exchange” begins with its focus on Farida, who gets divorced from her husband Omar, ending their long marriage of thirteen years. Having a young daughter, Jude, to look after, Farida has to move back in with her parents at their house and live life according to their expectations. It is not that the woman’s parents are too strict about things, but her father, Adeeb, is not very keen on Farida stepping out of the house so soon after her divorce, that too for work. In Kuwaiti society of the 1980s, divorce was still considered a matter of shame and grief for women, and all were expected to feel that way. Therefore, Farida initially has second thoughts about going to a charity fundraiser event on that very evening at the house of her good friend Yara. But she is gradually burdened with grim thoughts about her situation, especially after learning that Omar, who had been paying for Jude’s education, had stopped paying her school fees. When asked about it, Omar explains that he is not in favor of his daughter receiving a relatively modern education and exposure at the private school she is enrolled in and instead wants Jude to be admitted to a more orthodox public school. Although Adeeb is a distinguished (and wealthy) journalist and the editor of a leading newspaper in the country, he is evidently dissatisfied at the fact that he is still having to pay for Farida’s shopping and lifestyle expenses. With these pressures on her mind, Farida decides to step away from all of it for some time and visit the fundraiser party.
It is at this party at Yara’s house that we first see Farida meet her cousin, Munira, the daughter of her maternal aunt. From this very moment, it is clear that the two sisters have a fierce competitive nature toward each other, which was spurred by a math quiz during their school days. Although Munira had won this quiz and therefore claimed herself to be the more intelligent of the two, Farida claims that this result was tainted and was not a fair evaluation of their intellect. This also quickly reveals that both women are extremely good with mathematical figures and accounts. Munira happens to be the first woman clerk at the Bank of Tomorrow in the Kuwait Stock Exchange, and she receives an interesting chance to be a part of the dealings from the manager, Saud. As it turns out, Munira has to gather some information about a company in which Omar works as the manager. Munira now asks Farida to join hands and help her with the matter, while Farida thinks of making use of this chance to make a place for herself at the Stock Exchange.
How Is Farida’s And Munira’s Experience Working At The Kuwait Stock Exchange?
“The Exchange” is definitely centered around its two female protagonists, Farida and Munira, who are shown to be the first women working in the professional field of finance. Although the characters are not based on any real individuals, they are very much shaped by actual women and their struggles working in such an inhospitable environment at the time. The creators of the show have been clear about the influence of working women they experienced around them during the ’80s, which happened to be the time when Kuwaiti women stepped into finance for the first time. Therefore, it is no surprise that Farida and Munira’s characters are extremely determined to build a career and life for themselves. When her sister gives Farida the idea of making use of her access to her ex-husband’s professional details, Farida does sneak into the house and steals enough information to make the plan work. But instead of giving it all over to Munira, she directly approaches the bank’s vice president, Amir, who she knows personally as he is Yara’s husband. In this way, Farida secures a job at the stock exchange as a clerk, knowing well that Munira would have cut her out after this deal by paying off some meager money as compared to the salary she would draw from a job here. Throughout the series, Farida has to keep in mind the education of her daughter Jude, as she now has to bear the expense of it. Unable to pay the hefty fees of the private school, Farida agrees to Omar’s plan of sending the girl to a public school but keeps planning to earn enough money to transfer her back to the private school. Even though she does go behind Munira’s back to secure her place and also keeps up the inherent rivalry against her sister, Farida does acknowledge, at least internally, that her sister had led her to this opportunity.
Both of the women are crafty and determined to make their place in the men-dominated environment, and how they navigate such a space becomes the most important focus of “The Exchange.” Munira very quickly realizes what Farida has done by giving the secret information directly to Amir, and she begins to prepare to co-exist with her at the workplace. Although Munira does make things difficult for her sister at certain times, there is no hatred or deep-rooted jealousy between the two. They do realize and acknowledge the fact that they are the only two women in the whole place and would therefore have to help each other out.
“The Exchange” does gradually build up to such a scenario, as they gradually get recognition by a newspaper as the first two women workers in the field of finance. Although there is a different twisted reason for such an article, which Farida calls a “puff piece,” it also does give them recognition inside their own homes, which they are both proud of. ‘The Exchange’ does a good job of presenting the conflicts that women have to face in their professional and familial roles. Farida’s father is happy about the fact that she has landed a job successfully, but he and the mother are irked at the fact that this job is too demanding for her. In order to keep up with the late office hours and sudden workloads, Farida has to sacrifice her role as a mother, too, as she struggles to spend time with Jude, but this is not made a huge matter by the family. The grandparents, especially Adeeb, step into the role of being a guardian to the young girl, and it is he who provides support and company to her.
On the other hand, Munira receives little respect at home, even though she has been working and has been financially independent for quite some time. Her father runs a grand successful business and naturally considers his three sons to be adequate successors to his business, while Munira is incapable in his eyes, as she is a woman. It is not that Munira is disrespected by anyone at her house, but she is never taken seriously and is even looked down upon, including by her mother, who prefers Farida’s beauty to her daughter’s at all times. One of the trading assignments also throws Munira very directly into this conflict between profession and family when Bank of Tomorrow officials Saud and Amir decide to short-sell a company called National Cement. This decision is based on a very important client of theirs, and it coincides with the cement company going for presidential reelection. Although Munira and Farida do not want to be involved in this short-selling because they feel it is an unfair practice, they are compelled to do so. Gradually, it became clear that whoever was fighting to be the new president of the National Cement Company was the one who had asked the bank to put the company and its current president in turmoil. As Munira learns sometime later, it is her father who heads this reelection and eventually becomes the new president of National Cement. It had therefore been her father who had paid and influenced her bank to put the otherwise stable company into turmoil and under scrutiny, and in this sense, Munira and Farida were also used in a way. When the journalist comes to the bank office to interview Munira and Farida for the newspaper article about them being the first female stock exchange workers, he does so only against the promise that he would get some scandalous news from the bank. This news, which the bank was promising, was about the possible failure of National Cement, which Saud and Amir needed to be revealed in public, in order to bring the company’s present administration down. However, by the end, there is a slight redemption for Munira and her father’s relationship, too, as the man is visibly happy and proud of her after the news article about her and Farida is published.
This instance is not the only time that Farida and Munira get used by others, specifically men, as ‘The Exchange’ does not shy away from showing the struggles of a woman in a male-dominated workplace. Farida and Munira have to bear through it all—from the fact that the Stock Exchange does not have a restroom for women, to their merit being constantly underestimated because they were women. Instances of casual sexism are strewn through durations of each of the episodes, and it is done so intentionally to paint the times accurately. One of the most successful traders at the Exchange, and his entourage of male followers, decline to sell any stocks to Munira or Farida because he feels women do not know how to respect a profession and professionals. This man changes his mind only when Munira entertains him with a horrid sexist joke against women, which immediately makes her different from other women. Later on, in the show, Farida faces trouble against this same man when he makes a mistake in writing the cheques, and the bank resultantly owes him a lot of money to him. Even though the trader had made a mistake, even the jury, consisting of all men obviously, does not take a second to decide that it was all Farida’s fault. Both sisters are also approached romantically by men at their workplace. Saud seems attracted to Munira from the very beginning, and he gradually reveals his attraction to her, then proposes marriage to her as well. Munira is not very invested in the idea and asks for some time, but the over-ambitious Saud confidently tells his boss Amir that he and Munira are, in fact, about to be engaged. The woman in question does not even have any idea about this until Amir tells her that she would not be expected to keep working as it is not respectable for a married woman to leave her house and work. Even though Munira does seem romantically interested in Saud, she fights back and tells him that marriage is not on her mind at the moment.
Farida’s admirer is different in this regard, as Khalifa is more soft-spoken and seemingly sensitive than the other men at the place. Khalifa, a worker at a rival bank, is always respectful toward Farida, but his interest in her is rather obvious. Khalifa is also, interestingly, the only man who stands up against the woman being disrespected by the influential stock trader as he gets into a fight with him. But ultimately, Farida rejects Khalifa’s approaches for the time being, too, for she does not have time for romance in her present situation. Farida also has to deal with her ex-husband Omar throughout the series, as he keeps appearing in her life through their daughter Jude. She later learns that Omar had taken a hefty amount of money from her father to accept the divorce appeal. The very reason why Farida decides to end their marriage is that Omar is very controlling of her and does not want her to work or perhaps even step out of the house of her own accord. The show does not delve into the reason for their divorce at all, but it is very much felt that Omar is a man who does not support women’s freedom or rights and keeps believing in the traditional way of society.
‘The Exchange’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Farida And Munira In The End?
The ending of “The Exchange” focuses on the frenzied and hectic moments during October of 1987, when stock markets in some countries around the world crashed and led to panic in Kuwait as well. As the investors and traders feared a sure financial crash of the Kuwait Stock Exchange, the involved banks started to think of ways to save themselves from the situation. The leaders of the Bank of Tomorrow also indulge in a similar attempt, as vice president Amir steps in to take charge from manager Saud. This happens primarily because Saud wants the bank to take advantage of the situation by making very risky investments, and he grows too ambitious by this time. As trading takes place during the final moments before the assumed crash, there is utter chaos at the Exchange as everyone tries to save themselves from losing money. Amidst all this, Saud falls sick, clutching his chest, but nobody other than Munira comes to help. Perhaps realizing that this was all too much and that trading needed to be immediately stopped, Farida triggers the fire alarm system falsely, making everyone run out of the building. Since the dealings of these final moments are probably not finalized, the banks do not lose money, and the Kuwait Stock Exchange also does not suffer the crash that was feared. A few days later, Farida and Munira are seen returning to the Exchange, and it is revealed that although Saud had survived, he would not return to his job at the bank. Instead, Munira is made the manager, while Farida takes on the earlier responsibilities of Munira on the trading floor. A successful business had earlier planned on launching their IPOs through the Bank of Tomorrow, and this deal now becomes final, all thanks to the two women. The CEO of this company was a woman too, who was extremely impressed with Farida and Munira’s role in the bank’s operations, and the tale of the two women finally ends with a triumphant and historical outcome. Although Farida’s personal wish to get Jude back to the private school does not work out at present due to her financial constraints, she refuses to bow down to Omar’s offer to pay for the daughter’s education if she leaves her job. In the end, Farida explains to Jude about her situation, and the teenage girl understands it all, wanting only this clarity from her mother. In her professional life too, Farida gets validation from her boss Amir, who decides to waive off the money that Farida was supposed to pay the bank for the earlier incident of miscalculated checks.
Although the events and characters shown in “The Exchange” are not entirely factual, the context that the show brings out is very real. The finance sectors of Kuwait in the 1970s and early ’80s were completely dominated by men, and yet there were not enough workers in the field. As the creators themselves have stated, women workers started to get into the world of finance during this time, and many such working women surrounded the lives and worlds of the creators at the time.
“The Exchange” attempts to tell the stories of these very women and their pioneering efforts through the characters of Farida and Munira. However, it must also be mentioned that the major event in the last episode, the stock market crash of 1987, was a very real occurrence too, widely referred to as “Black Monday” of 1987. While all major markets suffered a steep decline during this time, Kuwait managed to avoid any major losses. Along with this, “The Exchange” also makes reference to other real-world events, such as the Iran-Iraq War and the USA’s involvement in it, as they all affected the stock markets in Kuwait at the time.
“The Exchange” is a 2023 Drama Thriller series streaming on Netflix.