Meet the mother-daughter who have given the humble saree blouse a bold new attitude

Founded by mother-daughter duo Manika and Arunisha Sengputa, Mumbai-based Choli Boli offers a range of trendy, ergonomically fitting statement blouses to match your attitude and style.

Arunisha Sengupta, Co-founder of Choli Boli, a brand that designs aesthetic and “different” saree blouses narrates an interesting story about the upper garment worn with the saree.

“It is said that the humble blouse evolved from the Western fashion of tight corseted inner wear – a must in colonial women’s fashion. Bequeathed to us by the Raj, it was Jnananandini Debi, the wife of Satyendranath Tagore – brother of the famous poet Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore – who popularised the blouses, jackets, chemises and the modern style of saree today after she was reportedly refused entry to clubs under the British Raj for wearing the saree draped over her bare breasts. 'Blouses' were therefore born out of “oppression” and the premise of “fitting in” like Satyendranath’s wife did and like Rabindranath insisted the same upon his wife!” she explains.

However, Manika points out that the saree remains a “special” garment, usually worn during festivals and occasions by urban millennial women.

Research threw up an interesting fact – sarees were not deemed “comfortable” enough to be worn for formal meetings. They may have evolved over time, but the accompanying upper garment still had a long way to go.

Choli ke peeche kaun hai

From the Rumi Collection

Manika and her daughter, Arunisha, started Choli Boli last year and launched a range of cholis that defied the entire notion of “too-tight and form-fitting” blouses.

“Gone are the days of wriggling into blouses (most times with the help of others) and the days of choosing a blouse to match a saree that covered or draped you. It is time for bold speak, where you can toss the drape aside to reveal your true nature to the world. Now, match the saree with these statement cholis that speak volumes about your attitude,” Arunisha says.

Arunisha Senguputa is a veteran Marcom professional and was part of the coveted panel of founder members of the Blue Ocean IMC, a young cutting-edge agency. Before that she was with Percept Profile, a communications conglomerate, for over eight years, and Tops Security as Vice President Corporate Communications.

Manika (67) controls the final production of the garments while Arunisha Sengupta (47) looks at marketing and operations. They work with designers and artisans who bring the cholis to life with their expertise.

The startup employs migrant workers who have tailoring skills, reaching out to them in closeted communities across Mumbai and providing them employment.

Each blouse tells a story

From the Choli Boli Omar Khayyam Collection

“I am not selling ready-made or made-to-order blouses. I am telling a story - that I believe in. Blouses should be freed from the trappings of misogynistic attitude. Like there are statement sarees, my team and I have created 'statement cholis' that have attitude.

So, if you are a chai lover, there is a blouse just for you; if you are a poetry lover, there is a blouse just for you; if you love Hollywood divas, there is another collection for you,” Arunisha says.

The cholis come in a range of collections:

Swadeshi: Made from indigenous fabrics like khadi, Mangalgiri, Kota, etc in Indian prints and styles like dhaabu, kalamkari, ajrakh, bandhej, ikat.

Corporate: Made from soft linen, breathable cottons, and uniquely designed as formal attire, these are meant to keep you comfortable through the day.

Multicoloured Happiness: These fun “saree tops” are designed from lightweight material for a younger consumer.

Chai Collection: Hand-painted and hand-embroidered, these offer chai memes on cholis.

Hollywood Diva: This collection has some iconic poses of Hollywood divas like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, and Audrey Hepburn.

Sufi: A collection dedicated to the four greatest mystics of the modern world: Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Amir, Khusrow and Khalil Gibran. Hand-embroidered, patch and applique-worked, some cholis have famous verses of poetry embroidered on them.

The duo invested Rs 1,00,000 into the business and launched Choli Boli’s ecommerce site six months ago. Phase 1 is all about targeting Indian women. In Phase 2, the co-founders are looking to expand their target audience to include the LGBTQ community and the Indian diaspora.

Arunisha says the ambitious plan is to “perhaps get the whole world to adopt the saree as a mainstream global dress”.

While COVID-19 did affect their operations, the duo tactically brought in an Unlock sale as soon as restrictions were lifted and saw a jump in sales.

Arunisha feels there should be more women entrepreneurs in India, as they have been given many benefits and equal opportunity platforms.

“I wonder why I didn’t start my venture earlier, but, yes, if there is anything stopping women it would be their own mindsets and societal pressures. There is no stopping them at all if they put their minds to it,” Arunisha says.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai