Kuwaiti actress Rawan Mahdi stars in Netflix’s ‘The Exchange’


In the Gulf region, Kuwait has long been a center for drama, producing numerous series and plays that attract attention around the Arabian Peninsula every year. Kuwait may have found its first global hit with Netflix’s new original series “The Exchange,” which earned a New York Times endorsement, as well as praise from critics and audiences around the world.

“The Exchange” may be the moment Kuwait’s deep roster of artistic talent finally earns the breakthrough they have long longed for — with the dream of telling their stories on the global stage about to become a reality, as it tells a female-centered finance story with style, substance, and wit.

Rawan Mahdi, the breakout star of the series, tells Arab News, “We have an identity that we haven’t been able to show.” As Kuwaiti artists, we have never had the opportunity to show our identities. This has always been a dream for us, and now we have even higher aspirations.”

Mahdi is the key to why this period drama succeeds. In the six episodes, she puts her all into Farida – a single mum who, during the year 1987, is trying to make ends meet for her family. This leads her to the Kuwait Stock Exchange, where she teams up with Munira; an astute dealer attempting to repair the male-dominated environment from within. Alongside each other, they battle prejudice and sexism and manage to gain acceptance from both their colleagues and adversaries alike – all for the sake of helping their loved ones out of poverty.

The producer initially thought I could play both roles, but as the story progressed, she came to me more and more, piece by piece. As the story progressed, she became more and more real to me. She is very restricted in the first two episodes — she keeps things on the inside — but as she blossoms at the stock exchange, you get to see her really come alive,” Mahdi says.

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Farida was inspired by the mother of the series’ co-creator Nadia Ahmad, who raised her daughter in similar circumstances in the late Eighties.

Mahdi was most concerned about Ahmad’s mother’s feedback at the premiere, not what the critics, influential audience, or executives might think.

I was so afraid of what Nadia’s mom would think,” Mahdi admits. “But when we finally met, her words left me speechless. They were the most beautiful words that I will never forget.”

In response, Ahmad’s mother approached her after the premiere and listened intently to Mahdi’s passionate speech about why she felt “The Exchange” was a landmark moment both for Gulf drama and for the representation of Khaleeji women.

She told me that she was very proud of the way Kuwaiti women are represented in the show. “When I saw it, I fell in love with your character. Even the way you talk about it, and the way you talk about my daughter’s project, fills me with pride,” Mahdi explains.

Even Ahmad herself, who did not speak much with Mahdi during production, which Mahdi believes was to give her artistic freedom to interpret the role on her own, was amazed by Mahdi’s attention to detail, and her transformational physicality that made the character feel real at every turn.

“I believe that is possible because Farida and I share the same values — everything we do is for love, because of love, and for love,” Mahdi says. “I was raised in a family focused on love, especially in my relationship with my father,” he continues. It touched me so much when I found that in Farida, and it became the thing I latched onto when I performed her, and those moments when that love shined through were the most special moments for me on set,” Mahdi says.

Mahdi discovered her passion for film and television through her love for her father, who is a renowned Iraqi screenwriter and director, who has lived his entire life in Kuwait.

Mahdi said “He lives his daily life surrounded by art, and he taught me about everything beautiful in life. He showed me great cinema, and would break down how film worked without a goal in mind — just because this is what he was passionate about, and how he raised me”.

Mahdi added in her nodes that “Cinema and my dad have taught me everything I know about life, and have made me feel like life is fine. It makes sense that I’m an actor now, because I’m so interested in this art form. I love life, but life is not easy. Cinema can make sad moments beautiful, and make beautiful moments shine even brighter,”

Having fallen in love with film and television from around the globe, Mahdi wondered why stories like that couldn’t come from Kuwait, hoping one day she could dedicate herself to something she was truly proud of.

She says again ‘When this script came to me, it was an absolute joy. It was a one-of-a-kind script in our region; I’d never read anything like it since I started acting,”

I think it represents the same struggles that Kuwaiti men and women are going through today, even though it follows men and women fighting through their lives in the Eighties. Today, we all struggle to find our passion, do what we love, and accomplish what we want.

Mahdi continues, “I was so inspired that this captured Kuwait both then and now. I wish it had come earlier, but I’m glad it came now.”

At the premiere, she saw what makes “The Exchange” so special as she looked behind her and saw all the faces of those in the audience.

Mahdi says, “The way people looked at me was something I hadn’t experienced before. It was overwhelming for me — from the close friends of mine to total strangers, to my coworkers.” “There was something in their eyes that was so real, so proud. People looked at me, especially my friends like I had given them hope. That was amazing to me. That was a true beauty.”



Roshan Amiri is an advocate for the truth. He believes that it's important to speak out and fight for what's right, no matter what the cost. Amiri has dedicated his life to fighting for social justice and creating a better future for all.

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