Beautiful inside and out

She is a maverick on all counts. A single mother, an entrepreneur, a model and actress and now brand ambassador for Hyderabad Metro Rail. Meet one of Hyderabad’s best known people — Sarvamangala Chavali — whose brand of sarees and blouses — Anagha — continues to rise in popularity.

Fair and light eyed, tall and still very slim, Sarvamangala Chavali does not come across as your average Telugu woman. Her unconventional looks notwithstanding, she stands out for several reasons. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she chose to walk out of a marriage riddled with domestic abuse. Not even a graduate in this professional degree obsessed city, she has been a successful entrepreneur for over six years now.

Going down memory lane for Ritz, seated in her store, she says, “I started my career as an airhostess for Indian Airlines from 1986-89… In the days when the airline had a monopoly. Marriage and children followed and I used to manage my mother-in-law’s store which dealt in handloom sarees. But, after 18 years of domestic abuse and violence, I decided I could not take it any more and I walked out of my husband’s home.

Sarvamangala took a huge risk in doing so because she had to leave her children then 16 and 11 behind as she could not afford to keep them with her – something that hurts her even now. “I had no income or savings of my own and my dad is a pensioner. I had to have financial independence to support my kids. My son did not talk to me for six months and they were fed nuggets like ‘Your mother left you because she didn’t love you.’ But I continued to meet them everyday and cook for them on sundays. Later they understood who was right and came to live with me on their own. And I never had any guilt about my decision because I knew I was doing the right thing. They still meet their father and I don’t stop them at all. Today, my daughter is very close to me and my son is very supportive of all that I do.”

Her best friend since 9th grade – Dr Padma Vishnubhatla, her father and sister also supported her unconditionally.  Dr Padma suggested that Sarva as she is called something of her own. “Having studied only till class 12, getting a job would be tough and it was 2007 – recession year. But, since I had managed my mother-in-law’s shop for so long I knew what it took to run a business. I started Anagha which means beautiful. The weavers and printers sent me goods without ever asking about payment. I was blessed that I had support. I started this business with a Rs 5 lakh loan from my father. And because I did not have to pay interest, I was able to pay him back and recycle the profits back into the business.”

Anagha today is a well known brand and apart from extremely feminine and designer blouses, Sarva retails sarees — in cotton and silk — which incorporate a range of Indian arts and crafts — from embroidery to Kalamkari to block printing to just weaves. Mangalgiris, Kanchi cottons, Chanderis, tussars — are all available under one roof. She also stocks dupattas and salwar kameez unstitched sets. Sarva has made it a point to hire women — some of whom are differently abled — as staff and in her absence, they do a wonderful job of looking after clients. She reiterates, “It is very important to educate girls and make them financially independent so they need not put up with humiliation or abuse in a relationship – and have the choice of leaving. And it is equally important to teach boys to behave respectfully towards women.”

In recognition of her success, in November  2008, she was selected for the ISB GS 10000 women programme – a course to empower deserving women entrepreneurs with an education in Management. In July 2011, she received the Outstanding Woman Entrepreneur Award constituted by FAPCCI – barely three years after starting Anagha.

Sarva has also been acting in movies lately. How did Tollywood come about? She says, “A casting director saw my pictures on Facebook and he approached me to play the actor Navdeep’s mother in Oh My Friend which released in 2011. ThenSeetamma Vakettlo Sirimalle Chettu followed in Jan 2013 and since then I have acted in six or seven movies five of which are due to release this year.” Her costars have been Mahesh Babu, Venkatesh, Siddharth, Isha Talwar and Anupam Kher. I ask her what it was like to work with the veteran actor. She says,”It is a Yash Raj Films production and I cannot talk about my role. But watching Mr Kher was a learning experience. He is so particular about how a shot should look and the level of preparation he does for every shot. At times, even if the director was happy with the shot, Mr Kher would ask for a retake as he was not satisfied. It was a very good and interesting experience and the high point of my acting career.”

Speaking of Facebook, Sarva is extremely adept at marketing her creations on the site. She credits her kids for helping her go online with her sarees and dupattas and there is never a day when one doesn’t see happy motivating messages or drool worthy sarees with sexy cholis up on her wall. I ask her what motivates her to stay happy and positive. She says, “It was not easy initially. After 18 years of being told you are worthless and good for nothing, you actually start believing it and it takes some time to undo the emotional damage. But with the help of my friend I was able to do so and I believe life is too short to keep clinging to the past. It is best to move on and stay positive no matter what.”

Today she is the best representative of her brand. Always well turned out in one of her own beautiful creations with jewellery to match, Sarva even models for her own label — “I didn’t have money to pay models so decided to do so myself when I started, now I just continue doing so.” She has also modelled for The Hindu and for Vencobb chicken. Also, since she loved dressing up, creating designs and combinations for her sarees was not so difficult though she does have a team of designers who work with her. Unlike some others in the city who like to flaunt their A lister clients, Sarva is different in that she considers all her clients to be celebrities. “I have housewives who run up bills of large amounts when they come here to shop. And some celebrities have actually walked in asking for freebies. So why would I not consider my real clients to be my celebrities?” she quizzes.

Of late however, it has been her selection as one of the brand ambassadors for Hyderabad Metro Rail that have kept her in the news. She says, “I just applied for the campaign on a lark and I didn’t think that I would win. But when I realised I had beaten several known entrepreneurs to be declared one of the the winners, I was quite thrilled. Right now there is not much to do except create awareness about the Metro but I guess closer to the time of the actual launch, I will be more involved as a brand ambassador.”

Plans now are afoot to have a full fledged online store and while she continues being her happy self, Sarva quietly pays for the education of two young girls and does her bit for the cause of women and weavers through her store.

She remains a shining role model for women everywhere and hopes to meet her soulmate soon.